Recommendations proposed to help indigent defendants

MASON, MI. (WLNS)- Poor people charged with crimes are at a disadvantage in courtrooms across the state of Michigan.

But the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission says they have a game-plan to start fixing the problem.

Liberty and justice for all — it’s part of the pledge of allegiance.

But many people across Michigan — looking for justice in courtrooms — aren’t getting the representation they need.

For poor people charged with crimes — known as indigent defendants — proper legal assistance from court-appointed lawyers is hard to find.

“So, somewhere the system is falling down,” said 55th District Court Judge Tom Boyd.

Boyd says people who have money to hire their own counsel have a smoother time in court.

“If you’re an indigent criminal defendant, it really doesn’t work that way today,” Boyd said. “You’re kind of more like on an assembly line.”

An assembly line that Boyd says needs to stop.

Boyd is a member of the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. And earlier this month, the MIDC released four initial minimum standards to tackle the problem.

They are: better training for public defenders; more confidential spaces for attorney-client meetings; more effective use of investigators; and, faster assignments to counsel.

“Not only does the Michigan constitution, the United States constitution say you have the right to effective assistance to counsel, but it just makes sense in terms of making sure that a just result comes from each case,” Boyd said.

But some say more needs to be done to achieve those just results.

Attorney Andrew Abood says, “They can only make what I would call small steps in an area where, you know, there’s not a great amount of empathy for criminal defendants.”

And Boyd acknowledges the challenge.

“We’ve really got a long way to go,” Boyd said.

A long way to go — to ensure liberty and justice for all.

Boyd says the Michigan Supreme Court will take a look at the recommendations, and they’ll decide in June whether to adopt them state-wide.

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