Gideon Alert: Michigan takes first steps to fulfilling Gideon’s promise

BY David Carroll on Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 4:12 PM

On October 13, 2011, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder issued Executive Order No. 2011-12 establishing an Indigent Defense Advisory Commission (Commission).  The Commission is charged to make recommendations to the Governor and Legislature for statewide “improvements to the system of providing legal representation for indigent criminal defendants.”  The recommendations from the 14-member, bi-partisan Commission must ensure that: “indigent defense is free from undue political interference and conflicts of interest;” “the right to counsel is delivered by effective counsel at each critical stage of the proceedings in a manner that is consistent throughout the state;” and, “government-funded criminal defense lawyers are sufficiently trained and supervised, appropriately qualified, and adequately compensated.”  The Commission must meet their charge in a manner that is fiscally responsible and cost-effective, while being “responsive to jurisdictional variances and local community needs.” Findings and recommendations are due to the Legislature and Governor no later than July 15, 2012.

In his accompanying press release, Governor Snyder states: "A core principle of our criminal justice system is to guarantee that an individual charged with a crime be entitled to legal representation, even if they are unable to hire private counsel. The Commission will work to ensure that all criminal defendants receive effective assistance of counsel."
 
Recognizing the need for broadbased input, Governor Snyder appointed ten Commission members to represent the wide spectrum of groups concerned with indigent defense representation, including the judiciary, prosecutors, local government, the State Bar of Michigan, criminal defense attorneys, and the general public.  The four other members are legislators representing both the majority and minority parties in each chamber. [Names and information on specific appointees are listed beneath Gov. Snyder's press release.]
 
The Commission has a herculean task, given the current problems in the delivery of services that have been documented by a large number of groups over a long period of time.   For more information, read: a) the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) class action lawsuit here; b) the efforts of the Innocence Project to exonerate the wrongfully convicted here; c) the report from the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) and the State Bar of Michigan on Michigan’s systemic indigent defense deficiencies here; d) the February 2009 Hearing before the United States House Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security on Michigan’s failing right to counsel system here; e) the U.S. House Judiciary field hearing in December 2009 here; f) the report of the Chief of the State Appellate Defender Office, Dawn Van Hoek, Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish: Waste in Michigan Public Defense Spending here; g) the recommendations of the State Bar of Michigan’s Judicial Crossroads Task Force here; h) the resolution of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission unequivocally calling the public defense crisis a major civil rights issue here; i) a speech by United States Attorney General Eric Holder before the Brennan Center for Justice decrying the lack of counsel in Michigan’s lower courts here; and, j) the Michigan Association of Counties, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, the Michigan Sheriff’s Association, and the Michigan Association Chiefs of Police calling for increased indigent defense spending as part of their Blueprint for a Safer Michigan here.
 
The most recent push came from the Michigan Campaign for Justice (MCJ), a broad-based group of organizations and individuals from across the political spectrum that is fighting for a fair and effective public defense system in Michigan.  On May 18th, 2011, MCJ and the ACLU released Faces of Failing Public Defense Systems: Portraits of Michigan’s Constitutional Crisis -- a compelling read documenting the stories of 13 people that the state of Michigan failed to provide with constitutionally-adequate public counsel.  The MCJ/ACLU report was accompanied by an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press by Dennis Archer, a former Michigan Supreme Court Justice and former President of the American Bar Association, and Richard McClellan, a lawyer and respected leader in the state Republican Party. A number of newspaper editorial boards have called upon the Governor and Legislature to fix the indigent defense system, including: The Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, and Michigan Live.
 
In his press statement, NLADA’s David Carroll stated that “Governor Snyder’s leadership is greatly appreciated. His action in creating the Indigent Defense Advisory Commission is a critical first step in resolving Michigan’s longstanding, chronic structural right to counsel deficiencies…. I am confident that the members selected by the Governor and Legislature are up to the job and will recommend a cost-effective system capable of producing criminal verdicts that are fair, correct, swift and final.”
 
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