Gideon Alert: New York's highest court allows NYCLU lawsuit to proceed

BY David Carroll on Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 11:24 AM

On May 6, 2010, New York’s highest court ruled that the class action lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) on behalf of indigent persons in five counties is an allegation “not for ineffective assistance under Strickland, but for basic denial of the right to counsel under Gideon.”  The Court declares that Strickland “is expressly premised on the supposition that the fundamental underlying right to representation under Gideon has been enabled by the State,” in reversing an appellate court decision that would have stemmed the case.

The Court found that where “counsel, although appointed, were uncommunicative, made virtually no efforts on their nominal clients' behalf during the very criticial period subsequent to arraignment, and, indeed, waived important rights without authorization from their clients[,]"  this is at heart “non-representation rather than ineffective representation.”  This language defines the non-representation that occurs in numerous states across our country – those that have abdicated their constitutional obligation to provide competent counsel for people unable to afford a lawyer.

The Court concludes, “Gideon's guarantee to the assistance of counsel does not turn upon a defendant's guilt or innocence, and neither can the availability of a remedy for its denial.”

For more information about the facts and allegations raised in the lawsuit, read here and here.