Thursday, October 13, 2011

Idaho's misdemeanor probation systems may violate state Constitution

The October 12, 2011 Idaho Statesman reports that Idaho’s misdemeanor probation system may have been operating illegally for almost two decades.  People placed on probation for felony offenses are supervised by the State Board of Correction.  But each of Idaho’s 44 counties decide for themselves how to supervise people on probation for misdemeanors.  Thirty-eight of the counties operate their own misdemeanor probation programs, one county has no program at all, and five counties contract with a private for-profit company to provide services.  A recently filed class-action lawsuit challenged the private contract program in Ada County, which includes the state capital Boise, alleging that probationers are being charged higher fees than allowed by state law and are being subjected to conditions that were not part of their sentence.  Of even greater concern to County Commissioners throughout the state is an August 15 memo from Sara Thomas, chief of the Idaho State Appellate Defender’s appellate unit.  Thomas’ memo concludes that Idaho’s Constitution requires all people on probation to be supervised by the State Board of Corrections and that the legislature has never had authority to put counties in charge of adult misdemeanor probation programs.  

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1:57 PM
Monday, August 29, 2011

Two Utah papers react to ACLU-Utah report

In response to the ACLU of Utah's recent report on the state's failure to meet its constitutional right to counsel oblications, two Utah newspapers published editorials expressing appropriate shock and outrage.  "One thing that any self-respecting bunch of Don’t Tread On Me Utahns should be concerned about is the prospect of being arrested, cuffed and dragged into court without so much as a marginally competent attorney on hand to defend you," the Salt Lake Tribune wrote on August 28, 2011.  

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9:50 AM
Friday, August 26, 2011

Gideon Alert: Undue prosecutorial influence on the 6th Amendment in Utah

In Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312 (1981), the United States Supreme Court found that states have a “constitutional obligation to respect the professional independence of the public defenders whom it engages,” noting that a “public defender is not amenable to administrative direction in the same sense as other state employees”. In fact, the Court noted, a “defense lawyer best serves the public not by acting on the State's behalf or in concert with it, but rather by advancing the undivided interests of the client.” A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah (ACLU-Utah) finds that the state of Utah fails to uphold this constitutional obligation.  In “most” of the nine counties studied by the ACLU-Utah, the local prosecutor “routinely” is responsible for hand-selecting opposing defense counsel and often helps to negotiate the terms of defender contracts. Worse, the report highlights that in several counties defense attorneys must request trial-related expenses from the county attorneys.  

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10:47 AM
Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gideon Alert: Tennessee Supreme Court proposes rule change allowing flat-fee contracting

“When it comes to balancing the scales of justice for the poor with the expense, there simply are no easy answers,” concludes the Knoxville News Sentinel on August 21, 2011 in part of an in-depth, three-part series. The Tennessee Supreme Court proposed a new rule change that attempts to find an easy answer to controlling indigent defense costs by allowing flat-fee contracting for right to counsel services, but the Court has neglected to provide institutional safeguards that would protect the adequacy of representation.  If implemented, this move will buck the trend of other state Supreme Courts, in places like Iowa and Washington, that have recently banned these types of low-bid contracts because they create a direct financial conflict of interest between the attorney and each client.  Tennessee’s high court is accepting public comment on their proposed rule until September 1, 2011.

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3:11 PM
Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gideon Alert: Cochise County, Arizona contemplates contract system in light of important State Court decision

“The insidiousness of overburdening defense counsel is that it can result in concealing from the courts, and particularly the appellate courts, the nature and extent of damage that is done to defendants by their attorneys' excessive caseloads,” declared the Arizona State Supreme Court in State v. Joe U. Smith, 140 Ariz. 355, 681 P.2d 1374 (Ariz. Apr. 4, 1984).  The Smith Court found that the lowest bid system for obtaining indigent defense counsel in Mohave County (Kingman) violated the defendant’s right to due process.  In light of the Smith case, Arizona counties struggle to provide fiscal predictability to the taxpaying public, while ensuring the rights to counsel and due process of each indigent defendant. The Wilcox Range News reported on August 10, 2011 that one county – Cochise County (Bisbee) – is currently considering a proposal to switch from an assigned counsel system paying an hourly rate of $50 to a system paying a “flat fee of $150 per misdemeanor case and $900 per felony case.”

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12:55 PM
Monday, August 8, 2011

Gideon Alert: Nevada DA seeks way around court-ordered performance guidelines

On August 9th, 2011, the Washoe County (Reno) District Attorney will ask the County Board to contract with Washoe Legal Services (WLS) to provide representation to criminal defendants in a reinstituted early case resolution (ECR) program.  The proposed contract is for WLS to handle every ECR case for a single flat fee of $80,000 with no extra funds set aside for investigations.   

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11:44 AM