courts
5:10 pm
Thu October 13, 2011

Snyder orders review of indigent defense

Governor Rick Snyder has ordered a review of how Michigan ensures that people charged with crimes are properly represented in court – even when they cannot afford to pay an attorney.

The state's criminal justice system is often ranked among the worst in the country because it does not guarantee poor people get a proper defense. It's long been criticized for a patchwork of standards where every county pays for and handles its own indigent defense system. Too often, court-appointed defense attorneys are poorly trained, inexperienced, and too overworked to do a good job of representing their clients, says Shelli Weisberg of the American Civil Liberties Union:

“It depends on what county you live in as to whether you’re going to get good representation if you’re in the criminal justice system, and that’s just not fair.”

Weisberg says that means there are people in jail and prison who should not be and, in some cases, people who committed crimes remain free.

The ACLU filed a class action lawsuit against the state four years ago. The ACLU wants a judge to declare Michigan is violating the state and federal constitutions by denying defendants adequate legal counsel.