Friday, June 30, 2006

Those poor people

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye has called for sweeping reforms to the way New York provides legal defense services to the poor, including transferring responsibility from counties to the state. She said the overhaul of the system's 122 individualized programs will give New York's 62 counties a needed financial break while ensuring there is one system of justice for all.
According to the study, many attorneys are too busy or choose not to visit their clients in jail. The commission found many do not return phone calls, answer letters or conduct even minimal investigations of their cases. In some counties, the study found, defendants first meet the lawyers in the courtroom. In others, the only contact available is through collect calls from jails -- which some lawyers refuse to accept.

Some defendants in town and village courts aren't assigned a lawyer because there's no one available, according to the commission. And many counties don't have enough resources to hire investigators, social workers or interpreters for non-English-speaking or deaf defendants.

Aside from the issue of basic fairness, there is an important criminal justice issue here: if an innocent person is sent to prison because of a poor defense, a guilty party is free to continue committing crimes. You can read more here.