Blog of Rights

Project Liberty Takes on Indigent Defense

By Lauren Alexander, ACLU of New York at 11:19am

Project Liberty, the New York Civil Liberties Union very own television show, is back and broadcasting across New York State. Our fourth episode highlights the NYCLU’s relentless fight to guarantee that New York’s criminal justice system respects the rights of all New Yorker’s, not just those who can afford their own Johnny Cochran.  

This episode marks five years since we filed Hurrell-Haring v. State of New York – our landmark, class-action lawsuit challenging New York’s failed system for providing effective legal counsel to poor people accused of crimes.

It features two of our lead plaintiffs, Kimberly Hurrell-Haring and Jackie Winbrone, whose heart-wrenching stories provide viewers unique insight into how the state’s fractured and dysfunctional public defense system is ruining people’s lives.

On the advice of her now-disbarred public defender, Kimberly pleaded guilty to a much more serious crime than the one she committed. As a result, the mother-of-two lost her job and her home. Jackie’s assigned counsel was missing in action as she languished in jail for a crime she did not commit. Her husband died during the 52 days she was incarcerated.

NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Corey Stoughton, lead counsel on the case, explains the over-arching consequences of New York’s five-decade long failure to provide a functional public defense system.  Each day in courtrooms across New York, people face judge and prosecutor without a lawyer accompanying them. When lawyers do appear, they struggle under huge caseloads to find time to investigate accusations and properly counsel clients about their rights.

Barrie Scheck, co-founder and director of the Innocence Project, and Thomas Giovanni, counsel to the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, offer perspective on grave harms that occur when our adversarial process is permanently skewed to favor prosecutors.

The whole point of this process is to ensure that the right people go to jail. When the system breaks down, people’s lives are upended – just ask Jackie and Kimberly.

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For more information or to find out when Project Liberty will air on your local cable access station, visit our website: nyclu.org

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