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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How can it be completely failed? My friend used to be one in his first year as an attorney and he graduated from a prestigious law school. He claimed that the pay wasn't as good so none of the truly competent people want to continue doing it.
So why don't they pay them more? I'd rather pay for that than a longer-than-14-year appeals process for most Death Penalty cases. Why in the world do you need more than 14 whole years to appeal a capital crime?
The guy I knew who was a Capital Offenses attorney said that the legal fees for Appealing the case were what was making it so costly, and I had no trouble believing it. He said that some states have applied a 14-year limit to the process but Arizona wasn't one of them. Arizona, where I was then, has the dumbest appeals process for Death Penalty that I ever heard. They wait 3 years and then review the entire case again to decide if it still qualifies as Capital punishment and if it's the right person. Then they go back to prison for 3 MORE years and do the whole thing over. One person had done this 6 times and were still doing the process. I thought it sounded totally stupid and I'm FOR capital punishment. It sounded like way too much rigamarole.

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