Systemic Failure: New Report Profiles 13 Michigan Residents in Indictment of State’s System of Providing Public Defense Services for the Poor

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
May 18, 2011 1:20 pm

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DETROIT, MI – 13 people. 13 stories. 13 tragic, expensive and preventable examples of Michigan’s failing public defense systems.

Today, at news conferences in Detroit and Lansing, the Michigan Campaign for Justice, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Michigan released Faces of Failing Public Defense Systems: Portraits of Michigan’s Constitutional Crisis, a report documenting Michigan’s failure to ensure that public defense attorneys have the tools they need to provide constitutionally adequate legal representation and the devastating impact of this failure on the lives of 13 public defense clients.

“Under the 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution, the indigent have a right to the effective assistance of competent defense counsel. In violation of national standards, Michigan does not provide its public defense attorneys with the investigators, experts, training, supervision, compensation and type of workloads that they need to meet this responsibility,” said Robin Dahlberg, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “The stories in this report are about the lives of real people that were tragically changed forever because Michigan’s public defense systems failed them.”

Among those profiled in the report and attending today’s news conferences were:

  • Edward George Carter. In 1975, 19 year-old Carter was convicted of armed rape and robbery after a bench trial that that lasted no more than a few hours. His attorney, a recent law school graduate, did not have the time or the funds to investigate the charges against him, to ask for or analyze fingerprints found at the scene and to interview Mr. Carter’s alibi witnesses. Mr. Carter spent 35 years in prison before a fingerprint analysis revealed that he was not the perpetrator.
  • David Tucker. In 1990, 21-year old Tucker was convicted after a 45-minute trial for charges of assaulting his manager at work. Struggling under a burdensome workload, his attorney assumed incorrectly that the victim would not testify and did not prepare for the trial. Tucker spent six years in prison before a federal court vacated his conviction, set him free and all charges were dropped.
  • Davien Woods. In 2002, 18-year old Woods was convicted of carjacking, armed robbery and felony possession of a firearm. Although another youth involved in the carjacking had identified the true perpetrator, Woods’ attorney had neither the time nor the funds to locate this individual. Wood spent two years in prison before a Michigan court found that his trial attorney had “unequivocally” provided ineffective assistance of counsel.

In 2008, advocates for reform founded the Michigan Campaign for Justice. Together with its 74 coalition partners, the Campaign has worked to educate lawmakers and the public about the inadequacies in Michigan’s public defense systems. In the 2009-10 session of the Michigan Legislature, bipartisan legislation was introduced to address systemic problems throughout the state.

“This report tells a story of a state in constitutional crisis,” said Elizabeth Arnovits, president of the Campaign for Justice. “The rights and responsibilities set within the U.S. Constitution cannot be set aside, even when times are tough. In fact, the 13 stories in this report alone cost taxpayers in Michigan $13 million and these are just the tip of the iceberg. This is exactly the time leaders should look to the Constitution in order to, reform the system and work to provide resources to uphold the basic rights of everyone in Michigan.”

David Moran, co-founder of the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School and David Tucker’s appellate attorney added: “The cases in this report are not unique. As someone who has been representing people in court for years, I know that most defense attorneys are giving their all on behalf of their clients but are hamstrung by systems in Michigan that do not provide the needed resources and fails to provide basic training, standards, and supervision. This cannot go on. Reform is long overdue.”

Faces of Failing Public Defense Systems: Portraits of Michigan’s Constitutional Crisis offers researched accounts of people accused of crimes across Michigan – people who were unable to afford an attorney, inadequately represented in court, imprisoned and later exonerated or are awaiting exoneration.

The report is the result of a partnership between the ACLU and the Campaign for Justice and is available online at….

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