Gideon Alert: Op-Ed in support of reform in New York

BY David Carroll on Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 11:17 AM

The Albany Times Union published an op-ed by members of the Constitution Project’s National Right to Counsel Committee (NRTCC) calling for the reform of New York’s deficient indigent defense system. The opinions and recommendations expressed by the NRTCC members here are consistent with their excellent report Justice Denied: America's Continuing Neglect of Our Constitutional Right to Counsel.

The NRTCC’s work highlights the importance of garnering unlikely allies in making Gideon’s promise a reality. Rhoda Billings is the former Chief Justice of North Carolina and Susan Herman is the former Executive Director for National Center for Victims of Crime. Victim’s organizations, in particular, have been extremely helpful in gaining political traction for indigent defense reform.  In Louisiana, the local affiliate of Parents of Murdered Children was the first group to testify in legislative hearings supporting the comprehensive 2007 public defender reform bill.  Failing to do the trial right the first time means endless appeals on the back end – delaying justice to victims and defendants alike – and making victims and their families have to relive the horrors of the crime as cases are retried.  And, when an innocent person is sent to jail as a result of public defenders not having the time, tools and training to effectively advocate for their clients, the true perpetrator of the crime remains free to victimize others and put public safety in jeopardy.  

Unlikely allies – including law enforcement officials, faith-based organizations, business leaders, the judiciary, victims groups, progressive and conservative think tanks, etc. – can unite around the basic premise that we all want criminal trials that are fair, correct, swift and final. Failing public defense systems – as in New York - prohibit that admirable goal.