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Fulfilling Gideon: Will the right to adequate defense be realized by Gideon's 50th anniversary?April 04, 2008
In 1961, a penniless man was hauled into a Florida court, charged with breaking into a pool hall, and convicted without ever speaking to an attorney other than the prosecutor. From prison, Clarence Earl Gideon hand-wrote a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court saying he did not have a fair trial because he had had no attorney to help him, and asked the Court to throw out his conviction. In 1963, the Supreme Court handed down the landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright that all citizens are entitled to legal counsel when charged with a felony, and the states must provide counsel to those who cannot afford it.
In the 45th year following the Gideon decision, the Washington State Office of Public Defense (OPD) takes a thorough county-by-county look at public defense in Washington, at progress made and significant gaps still remaining, and asks the question: What will it take to fully achieve the promise of Gideon in Washington State — the Constitutional promise of fair trials for all citizens — by the decision’s 50th anniversary in 2013?
On April 11, OPD will release a county-by-county status report on public defense in Washington, and will participate in a symposium in Olympia examining the Gideon decision and public defense in Washington. Speakers at the symposium include Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander, Attorney General Rob McKenna, Office of Public Defense Director Joanne Moore, Washington State Bar Association President Stan Bastian, Seattle University Defender Initiative Director Bob Boruchowitz, and Committee on Public Defense co-chair Jon Ostlund.
The symposium is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. to Noon on Friday, April 11 at the Temple of Justice on the Capitol Campus in Olympia. Release of the “Status Report on Public Defense in Washington” will take place at a press conference following the symposium. Journalists are welcome to attend the symposium as well as the press conference.
“The harsh reality is that, in courts across Washington and the nation, thousands of people plead guilty without ever talking to any lawyer except the prosecutor. This is most dramatic in misdemeanor and juvenile courts,” said Bob Boruchowitz, a member of the Washington State Bar Association’s Committee on Public Defense, in a report for the King County Bar Bulletin. “This happens both because there is no public defender available at the first court appearance and because of a culture that regards misdemeanor and juvenile cases as not important enough to invest the money and time necessary to have lawyers to help accused people.”
The Public Defense Status Report comes as Washington is in the midst of a dynamic reform movement regarding court funding and the funding of public defense in the state. State legislators in 2005 and 2006 approved new funding for defense services for counties that work to meet public defense standards. It was the first time state funding was allocated toward public defense services — county and city governments have always paid for all public defense services, causing sometimes serious inconsistencies in quality and availability of services.
Continuing these efforts is crucial toward fulfilling the promise of Gideon and fair trials for all citizens. The state, counties and cities file more than 230,000 criminal charges and serious legal actions against impoverished Washington citizens each year. Serious problems still exist in the defense system designed to help those citizens, including excessively high caseloads and low compensation for contracted public defense attorneys, and inadequate oversight in the delivery of trial-level public defense services. In the coming year, OPD will work with legislators to address failures to provide attorneys for all juveniles at their initial court appearances, among other gaps in the public defense system.
“The crisis in public defense is gravely harming thousands of people every year in Washington,” said Joanne Moore, director of the state Office of Public Defense. “Much progress has been made, thanks to our partners in the Legislature. We are thankful to be on the right road toward honoring Gideon and the Constitution, but we have further to go.”
CONTACT: Joanne Moore, director of the Washington State Office of Public Defense, (360) 586-3164, ext. 112.
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