Scattershot Public Defender System in Idaho Comes Under Fire

Innocent unless proven guilty…

These words are the bedrock of our criminal justice system. Yet for many Americans who are currently navigating the justice system maze, this fundamental principle is but a dream—a reminder of what could be, if only they had the money to pay for a lawyer with the time and resources to represent them effectively.

Adequate representation in court is mandated by law. Before the government can take away a person's liberty, the Sixth Amendment requires that the case against the defendant be put to the test. It is largely up to criminal defense attorneys to make sure the state fulfills that requirement.  The failure of the State of Idaho to ensure all public defenders there  have the resources they need to do so in an effective way puts the entire system—not to mention the liberty and livelihoods of criminal defendants—in jeopardy.

When these same issues arose in Michigan and New York in recent years, the ACLU stepped in and sued both states for their longstanding failure to provide public defenders with the tools and resources they need to represent their clients in a meaningful way.  Both cases resulted in wholesale changes to public defense delivery in those states.  And in 2013, a federal court ruled that the structural flaws of the public defense systems in two municipalities in Washington deprived indigent criminal defendants of their Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

Most recently, The ACLU, the ACLU of Idaho, and the law firm Hogan Lovells filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Idaho asking the court to force the state to fix its unconstitutional system of public defense.  The case was brought after years of advocacy and alternative efforts at encouraging state officials to address the problem with real solutions—and real funding.

The process began in 2010, when the National Legal Aid and Defender Association released a report analyzing the representation provided to criminal defendants in Idaho's trial courts. The report found that "none of the public defender systems in the sample counties are constitutionally adequate." Despite this disturbing reality, the Idaho Legislature has failed to make the necessary changes to ensure that anyone prosecuted for a crime in Idaho—regardless of income level—has access to an attorney with the time, training, and resources to represent them effectively.

Five years later, nothing has changed.

Low-income defendants are still unrepresented at their initial bail hearings, resulting in many pleading guilty and suffering lifelong consequences just because they felt they had no other realistic options, and in others spending extended time in pretrial detention. Public defenders are so overloaded in many counties that defendants are unable to communicate with their attorneys on a consistent basis, leaving them in the dark regarding developments in their own cases. Worst of all, without adequate resources, many public defender offices lack the resources needed to thoroughly investigate many cases, if at all, leading many defendants—even while proclaiming their innocence—to simply plead guilty rather than risk going to a trial where the playing field is tilted in favor of a better-funded prosecution.

In January 2015, even Idaho's Gov. "Butch" Otter acknowledged that "the courts have made it clear that our current method of providing legal counsel for indigent criminal defendants does not pass constitutional muster." Despite the governor's admission, and the various committees and commissions that have been formed to study the issue over the last few years, the reality is that some of the most vulnerable people in Idaho continue to fall victim to this failing system.

It is the state's responsibility to ensure that people charged with crimes within its borders are given a full and fair opportunity to defend themselves in court—and that can only be achieved when public defenders have access to the training and resources they need to zealously advocate on all of their clients' behalf.  As the U.S. Supreme Court reminded us more than 50 years ago, "The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours."

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Anonymous

i truly hope this system can change. It is corrupt and run by the private prisons. Public defenders do not even pretend that they can help you and just recommend a plea to get you in jail while you wait bail or hearing. The prisons are filled with informants that work for the prosecution to get more charges
added and increase jail times and fines.

Anonymous

It absolutely amazes me on how tilted this is for the prosecution and how a defendant is threated to accept pleas deals or waive preliminary hearings and speedy trials. If they do not accept the terms, the threat of bail being raised so families can't afford to help them so back to jail they go. Even worse, they have to answer the judge when asked, "Do you agree with this?", when realistically they don't have a choice. No investigation has happened with this on the public defenders part and in the meantime the prosecutors are racking up collaborated informant testimonies against our son most of which are lies of criminals, drug dealers and crooked statements.

C. Moore

Do you know if there is a place or contact person that a complaint can be made? My son has been in jail for almost 11 months and has been screwed around this whole time. No bond, no speedy trail etc. They have totally violated his rights. With out going into detail, it's all because he wants to take it to trail. Cop did a illegal search. (No search warrant)

Anonymous

239 years from now, we will still be having this same discussion. It is more important for the prosecution to win, than it is for the facts to be heard. That is why the courts insist upon the widespread use of plea bargains and probation. Many an innocent person has been baited into accepting a plea bargain and probation, by their own counsel, because, when on probation, you relinquish many of your constitutional rights guaranteed us by our founders. Prosecutors do not like the constitution because it hampers expedient convictions, and, if an accused person is charged with another crime, the scales of justice are already tipped in favor of the prosecutor. The judicial circle of life.

Ann Williamson

People not getting attorney's at bail hearings and end up pleading guilty?...I've been arrested twice and was never given the option to have one, nor was I even asked to enter a plea. I guess that explains the 'automatic guilty" given there is no such thing as innocent until proven guilty. I still don't know what one of the charges was and another just showed up on my record that I have never even been charges with. Try getting someone to address these issues, because the ACLU says they don't handle civil rights issues in S.C. There is a different process in every court in this country.

Anonymous

Please some one help these people most are non violent, my son too is stuck in an Idaho jail without a defense attorney, when he asked for one that could rember his name, the judge told him he would have to represent himself! Payette has 1 worthless public defender that has been convicted of dui multiple times, doesn't even try to defend people he got angry when my son wouldn't waive his right to a preliminary hearing. Please help!

Anonymous

Canyon county prosecuter and public defender need to be investigated in their procedures when ch as thing and defending the accused they are holding my husband and he is being charged unfairly by prosecuter and public defender is not stopping them he just says wr wait tut o see what they have six times asking for evidence and 6 months in jail and now they want to file more chachargesuse first ones wont stick and public defender not stopping their bullshit

Draper

I was just released from Clayton County Jail in St. Louis MO on April 26th. I plead guilty to be released on 5 years papers on a kidnapping felony case with a $100,000 cash only bond without a victim. I have a letter I sent to the DOJ and another in progress detailing my experience.

I found some of my grandfathers old court papers dealing with racism on the job (St. Louis County Police) and I confirmed that I am still fighting the same battles as our fathers and grandfathers. The bible says the unjust have no shame! The atrocities of the veiled justice system is biblical. I will be in touch soon. No Justice Required in the Courts of America!

Anonymous

The ineffective Assistance of the Public Defenders in Georgia who do not have the proper training and resources to advocate for his clients, are violating the constitutional rights of the inmates. I know a case where the Defendant did not present to the judge the neuropsychology test of the inmate that state that he has an "organic brain damage ". The Counsel only mention to the judge that the inmate would have a mental illness. However the Judge did not give enough attention, since "they have had a long day". The defendant was convinced by the counsel to plea guilty. The Counsel left out of the case the mitigating facts that were relevant to assessing the outcome of the case, to either the guilt determination or the sentence.

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