Every state has a constitutional obligation to provide legal representation to criminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney. Nevada is failing to fulfill this obligation for low income people in its rural counties on a daily basis. Many of these underfunded rural counties lack a true public defense system, and instead mainly rely on flat-fee or defacto flat fee contract attorneys to act as public defenders. These contract attorneys operate without the oversight, resources, or time necessary to ensure they are providing an adequate defense to low income Nevadans. In fact, very often they fail to communicate with clients in basic ways, advocate effectively for pretrial release at bail hearings, or conduct independent investigations necessary to defend their clients. Worse, they at times pressure clients into taking plea bargains against the clients’ express wishes. This is not justice.
This is a crisis of public defense for low income Nevadans, and it is something that state officals, including the Governor of Nevada, have known about for too long and taken insufficient action to correct. The result is the ongoing civil liberties violations we see today, which betray the consitutional guarantees of the right to counsel and due process. This lack of real defense has caused and will continue to cause irreparable harm until the State takes steps to correct this problem. The government is not supposed to deprive anyone of their freedom without making sure that the process is fair. Without a constitutionally adequate defense lawyer, the process is irredeemably stacked against the individual in favor of the government. The ACLU, the ACLU of Nevada, Franny Forsman, and O’Melveny & Myers are suing on behalf of their clients, Diane Davis, Ryan Adam Cunningham, and Jason Lee Enox to ensure that all Nevadans have someone to fight for them when it matters most.