/Indigent defendants denied effective legal counsel, report says

Indigent defendants denied effective legal counsel, report says

According to the 132-page Mississippi Public Defender Task Force study, there is no system in place for local governments to provide effective counsel to defendants indigently accused of felonies in trials courts. The task force also recommends legislation to correct the deficiencies it finds in the state’s legal systems. The Fourteenth Amendment gives states the responsibility of overseeing defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights to effective counsel. The state does not directly evaluate the qualifications of indigent defendants’ counsel in death-eligible cases in Mississippi. “I believe Mississippi would benefit in many ways from a well-organized and adequately funded state defense system so there wouldn’t be great disparity between the quality of legal representation within different parts of state,” stated James W. Kitchens, state Supreme Court Justice and chairman of Public Defender Task Force. “The majority of Mississippi’s circuit court defendants are indigent.” He said that they can’t afford to hire a lawyer as skilled, experienced, and as well-trained as the district attorney or his or her assistants. The task force asked the Sixth Amendment Center of Boston and the Defender Initiative of Seattle University School of Law for observations, interviews, and analysis of data. This was done beginning in 2015. The study looked at indigent defense services within 10 counties, including Adams, Clarke and DeSoto. The report revealed that indigent felonies defendants are often denied counsel between arrest and arraignment. This is a period that can last from a few months to a year. Kitchens stated that there are many dedicated lawyers who take court-appointed cases and are trying to provide the same level of service to clients who pay them. Kitchens stated that the current system has many flaws and is more costly than a well-organized and adequately funded public defense system. The report suggests legislation to better allow the state to provide indigent defense. The recommendations of this report will allow the Office of State Public Defender to present the Legislature with a plan that addresses the weaknesses in the current splintered system, while keeping the good aspects,” stated Andre de Gruy (State Public Defender). He said that while we understand that the plan must be cost-effective, we strongly believe that constitutionally required indigent defense spending should be a priority of ‘Justice Reinvestment. This report was released just one day after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, which gave poor people the right to be represented in felony cases under the Sixth Amendment.