Criminal Defendants Sue State Of Utah For Blowing Off The Sixth Amendment

from the the-best-lawyers-$0-can-buy dept

So much for those "inalienable rights." The Sixth Amendment -- among other things -- guarantees representation for criminal defendants. This guarantee has been declared null and void in two states: Utah and Pennsylvania.

The problem isn't that these states aren't willing to comply with both the Sixth Amendment and the Supreme Court's Gideon v. Wainwright decision. It's just that they're not going to spend any of their money doing it. In these states, funding for indigent defense is left up to local governments, with no additional support coming from the state level.

This causes problems for smaller locales, which often don't have the revenue to fully fund the legal defenders the accused are (supposedly) entitled to. But it's not just a matter of funding. It's also a matter of priorities. The state of Utah is currently being sued because of its unwillingness to ensure public defenders are properly funded. There's money available, but lawmakers have shown an unending willingness to only fund half of the criminal justice equation.

Utah is one of only two states nationwide that provide no state funding for indigent defense. It ranks 48th in the nation in per capita funding of indigent defense, according to the complaint.

Nor has the state set standards for contracted indigent defenders, or ensured that counties provide "constitutionally adequate" legal representation, the men say. Utah counties design and administer their own indigent defense programs.

Washington County uses fixed-price contracts to pay local attorneys for indigent defense, and budgeted $760,688 for indigent defense in this year. The county budgeted $2.8 million for prosecution this year, and the state has budgeted $18.6 million for criminal prosecution, and not a dime for defense.
The lawsuit points out that the lack of funding has hampered both of their cases. For one of the two defendants bringing the suit, the lack of funding resulted in his public defender's contract not being renewed, basically leaving him without capable representation.
At the time this lawsuit was filed, Plaintiffs were being represented by public defenders. During that representation, Washington County did not renew the public defender contract for Mr. Paulus’ public defender which makes it impossible for him to continue to his currently scheduled trial date.

Mr. Paulus faces 25 years to life in the Utah State Prison if he is convicted of his crimes. Mr. Paulus had a previous public defender, Ed Flint, who had obtained a private investigator interview a number of witnesses, but Mr. Flint had not retained any expert witnesses because of the contract issues with the Defendants as it relates to the public defender system in Washington County. As of the date of the filing of this action, Aric Cramer, who had two contracts and subcontracted with Ed Flint, did not have these two contacts renewed. Mr. Cramer would also subcontract with Ariel Taylor. On information and belief, one of those contacts are still unfilled.

On information and belief, attorney Ariel Taylor has been awarded one of those two vacant contacts. However, Mr. Taylor has no knowledge or involvement in the Mr. Paulus’ case prior to the non-renewal of Mr. Flint and Mr. Cramer’s contracts.
And it's not just that defendants are in danger of losing lawyers familiar with their cases if contracts aren't renewed. Years of underfunding and neglect by local governance has led to an ad hoc public defense network which does little to ensure defendants receive competent assistance.
Defendants exercise no supervision over the county indigent defense programs. They have also failed to establish, require, or enforce any practice standards or gridlines for the portions of noncapital indigent defendants receive constitutionally adequate representation.

National standards pertaining to the administration and provision of indigent defense programs have been in existence for decades . State and local entities across the country have adopted many of these practices standards. Washington County has refused to do so.
The lawsuit is aiming for class status, which would draw in many other criminal defendants -- either imprisoned or still awaiting trial.

The numbers cited in the suit aren't anomalous. The complaint that defenders' offices are underfunded can be heard all over the nation. It's just that two states have further tipped the scales in favor of prosecutors by passing all costs on to local governments. And when there's a limited amount of money to spend, it plays better with voters to hand it to the law enforcement side, rather than a system that helps "guilty" people "escape" punishment. Yes, I'm aware our justice system is predicated on the presumption of innocence, but that's the ideal, not the prevailing perception.

A system that is routinely a travesty at best is a complete debacle in Utah, quite possibly to the point of being unconstitutional. But that's the way the accused are treated. The system prefers plea bargains to trials and convictions to exonerations by a large margin -- something that can be immediately confirmed by taking a glance at government balance sheets.

At best, this case will force the state to start funding indigent defense. But much more needs to be done before the system can be considered equitable.

Filed Under: public defender, sixth amendment, utah


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 28 Jan 2016 @ 9:46pm

    "Well you see, 'Not Guilty' doesn't look as good on a prosecutor's resume..."

    Washington County uses fixed-price contracts to pay local attorneys for indigent defense, and budgeted $760,688 for indigent defense in this year. The county budgeted $2.8 million for prosecution this year, and the state has budgeted $18.6 million for criminal prosecution, and not a dime for defense.

    Those four numbers alone tell you all you need to know about the state's priorities. It has absolutely no interest in seeing justice done and the innocent protected, all it cares about is how many people it can convict.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 1:57am

      Re: "Well you see, 'Not Guilty' doesn't look as good on a prosecutor's resume..."

      for profit prisons means lucrative kickbacks and bribes paid to the state the more people they send to said prisons.

      You could call it slavery if you really wanted to. You rig the system so that people cannot defend themselves against unjust laws, then send them to be used as slave labour in return you get a handsome profit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 4:15am

        Re: Re: "Well you see, 'Not Guilty' doesn't look as good on a prosecutor's resume..."

        ...and people say there's no such thing as class warfare in the US.

        This is exactly that. Ensuring slavery through perfectly legal means; and it need to be shut down hard enough that other states ehar it.

        The people who budgeted this way need to be jailed for perverting the course of justice and perjury through negligence.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 5:37am

          Re: Re: Re: "Well you see, 'Not Guilty' doesn't look as good on a prosecutor's resume..."

          there is a line ahead of them of about several hundred thousand that should be jailed for corruption of the country's laws to line their pockets.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Wendy Cockcroft, 29 Jan 2016 @ 8:15am

          Re: Re: Re: "Well you see, 'Not Guilty' doesn't look as good on a prosecutor's resume..."

          That's not a class thing, it's a corporate thing. Don't let them divide and conquer by using loaded language and playing the blame game.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 8:10am

      Re: "Well you see, 'Not Guilty' doesn't look as good on a prosecutor's resume..."

      Well when your system is built around guilty until proven innocent paying for a defenders would only increase the possibility of someone being innocent.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 10:01am

      Re: "Well you see, 'Not Guilty' doesn't look as good on a prosecutor's resume..."

      Those four numbers alone tell you all you need to know about the state's priorities

      Well yeah, if I was running a state with one of the lowest crime rates in the entire country, I wouldn't sde it as a particularly high priority either.

      Unfortunately, Pennsylvania doesn't have the same excuse.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 10:23am

        Re: Re: "Well you see, 'Not Guilty' doesn't look as good on a prosecutor's resume..."

        Well yeah, if I was running a state with one of the lowest crime rates in the entire country, I wouldn't sde it as a particularly high priority either.

        Then why are they spending so much on prosecution? Almost $19 million a year in a state with fewer than 3 million people? And if they have one of the lowest crime rates, that seems like a lot, but maybe that's typical.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 10:25am

        Re: Re: "Well you see, 'Not Guilty' doesn't look as good on a prosecutor's resume..."

        They're willing to throw $18.6 million at the prosecution side of it, so clearly that's a priority they consider worth spending money on, it's just the defense side that they don't consider important enough to actually spend a cent on.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 30 Jan 2016 @ 5:01pm

      Re: "Well you see, 'Not Guilty' doesn't look as good on a prosecutor's resume..."

      How much justice can you do, when you cannot send criminals to prison without a trial, and you cannot have a trial if you won't provide a lawyer and they can't afford one?

      I bet "We had to dismiss thousands of charges and let hundreds of nefarious criminals awaiting trial go free because we're too cheap to do what the law says we have to" would look AWESOME on their resumes...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TKnarr (profile), 28 Jan 2016 @ 11:55pm

    Thought: apply an old solution. Force the state governments to fund 2 offices for prosecution and defense. An accused who cannot afford an attorney gets to pick which office will handle his defense, with the other office handling the prosecution (if the accused can afford his own attorney, the state can assign prosecution to whichever office they want). Any crossing-over between the offices during a case would result in a mandatory dismissal with prejudice of all charges. The problem should solve itself after that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 12:34am

      Re:

      That would work, yeah.

      I was thinking make it a requirement that each dollar allocated to prosecution must be matched by an equal amount allocated to defense, so that at least funding wise they're on an equal footing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 1:44am

        Re: Re:

        Even with matching dollars on both sides, that ignores the huge investigative body that assists the prosecution gathering evidence.

        They need to actually enforce Brady violations, and make the consequences so dire that to violate them terrifies prosecutors.

        The system is balanced on paper, but reality is far different.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 2:02am

          Re: Re: Re:

          that will not happen, there is literally nothing to force them to be accountable at this point. I honestly suspect the only thing saving America from turning into a third world cesspit completely is the 2nd amendment preventing any sort of radical attacks against the people by their rulers.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 7:16am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Even with matching dollars on both sides, that ignores the huge investigative body that assists the prosecution gathering evidence."

          Shouldn't the defense be allowed some $ for investigations as well. I know in theory the investigator should give all evidence to both sides .....

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 7:20pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Using my ripped from the headlines examples...
            In the rape case against Steven Avery they never looked at anyone else, they ignored any evidence that challenged the theory. They wrote reports on facts years after they happened to build a papertrail to try and fend off a multimillion dollar lawsuit.

            Justice works in the delusion that the cops are honest unbiased investigators only seeking the truth. The prosecutors are supposed to look at the evidence and charge based on the actual evidence. Judges are supposed to be impartial. Defendants get great defense teams, not someone who has to see 45 clients this week to earn enough to pay rent. Witnesses are never swayed with intimidation & threats.

            The system is inherently broken and refusing to fund a required portion of the allegedly fair system that the law requires has destroyed any illusions.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 12:21am

    One wonders how much safer these citizens feel...
    I mean there is no evidence that cops lie (ha), prosecutors hide evidence that disproves the case (ha), that innocent people end up in jail (ha).

    I'll tear one from the headlines to make it easier for the home viewer. While Steven Avery was serving his first sentence for rape, the actual rapist kept raping. The bright legal stars who put an innocent man in jail got no punishment for ignoring the evidence, in fact one of them to this day refuses to accept what the DNA proved. This is deep seated delusion.

    So while you are all excited that these criminals aren't getting a fair trial (except in name alone) remember that the system can and will pick someone it just doesn't like and railroad them to jail. Sure hope it doesn't happen to you or yours... because when you start screaming then how unfair it all is, the other fine citizens will just say but hes a criminal why bother just like you did.

    Broken system is broken, how we treat the least of us says so much about us. Like what you see in the mirror?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 2:04am

      Re:

      A million times that. The main problem is that people look in the mirror and see no problem. You only see a problem if you've been a victim to it or if you are willing to think outside of the box.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Wendy Cockcroft, 29 Jan 2016 @ 8:16am

        Re: Re:

        That's a feature, not a bug, in a society that not only tolerates selfishness, it celebrates it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 7:28pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I think part of it is driven by the well so and so got sacked so the problem must be solved now. They see the headline, call it mission accomplished, and move onto the next shiny thing the media wants us to see.

          There are times you wish that more people would get touched by the broken things in our world, just so they finally have it happening to them so they can see it actually does happen.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 1:53am

    Living in the state of Utah and dealing with a public defender twice, i can 100% assure you that its shit. The PB is just a tool for the prosecution to get a convection, both time i dealt with him it was a immediate deal he could make(even before he knew my side of the story).

    The first time was a felony that i should of been able to fight, but i was young an4d the contact i had with my PB was basically at court in front of everyone and the judge. Of course he just offered a deal which i stupidly accepted.

    The second time i was more guilty, and a lesser charge, but i think challenging probable cause could of been a viable option, but the PB (same one) didnt give me any confidence, and seeking outside help was as such a ridiculous price, i just took the deal and payed the not so small fine. (still a lot cheaper then the lawyer cost would of been)

    I also want to note that there was 20+ years between the two charges4

    As usual with this state, if your Mormon, you will get the resources to help you, if you not, your on your own and are probably fucked.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Justme, 29 Jan 2016 @ 2:44pm

      Re:

      My experience was about the same, i had no communication with the public defender until the very moment i was called before the judge. And it was a different person at every hearing, it seemed they just used who ever happened to be in the court room at the time.

      But then about 15 years prior, i hired a private attorney and the end result was exactly the same. Of coarse now he is the district attorney.....

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 1:54am

    Banana republic system. The state gets the best defense money can buy then their opponents are not allowed anything comparable in some cases they get less or nothing as a fair trial would hurt their chances of getting rid of undesirables to the state.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldGeezer (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 2:52am

    I can't remember what movie it was in but Chris Rock was playing a cop and when giving Miranda to a guy he was arresting he said "You have the right to be represented by some of the dumbest fucking lawyers on the planet". If you are broke you certainly won't get the O.J. dream team!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 3:30am

    Am I the only one thinking it's odd that he can't afford a lawyer for a criminal defense, but magically has representation (in one form or another) for a lawsuit about not having representation?

    Cherry picking lawyers thinking they can pass their costs onto the state if the defendant wins?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 3:51am

      Re:

      It's possible that the lawsuit against the state is being done for free by a firm that is looking for a PR boost, or on the condition that they get a cut if the state tries to settle the matter out of court with a cash settlement(something I'd put fair odds on happening, given the state isn't going to want people looking too closely at their indifference towards legal representation).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Whatever (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 4:07am

        Re: Re:

        Yup - just too bad that said lawfirm couldn't find the time to represent the guy instead. Priorities to the bottom line, I guess.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 4:24am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Money and time really. They can afford to work for free or 'free' for a big case like this, but they'd be overwhelmed if they tried to do the same for anyone who ended up with a lawyer to defend them, to the point where they'd either have to stop doing it, or would fold due to lack of funds.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 4:25am

          Re: Re: Re:

          *ended up without a lawyer

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 6:04am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Actually this way works out better, because if he got pro-bono the first time around then a positive outcome in his favor only affects him.

          Now if the guy has a positive outcome in his favor with the 6th being involved as part of the process it will now affect EVERYONE which is a far more suitable situation.

          Thank you for being a shill of the state. I hope your next run in with the law is everything that is currently wrong with it. You deserve nothing but the best!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            nasch (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 7:01am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Now if the guy has a positive outcome in his favor with the 6th being involved as part of the process it will now affect EVERYONE which is a far more suitable situation.

            And that's why a civic-minded firm would be more interested in taking the case pro bono now.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 12:18pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Which helps more: giving this guy representation this one time, or making sure that the state properly funds defenses for everyone who needs one?

          Not to mention that they want to recover attorney fees in this case. I really don't think you can recover fees in a criminal case, even if you win.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 4:57am

      Re:

      Could it be that you are asking the wrong question?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 9:38am

      Re:

      Lawyers see $$$$$ when they hear class action lawsuit (regardless of the result for the "class"), so there are always lawyers willing to take the case on a contingency basis...

      Lets see that work for a defense lawyer, what are they going to get 60% of your "freedom" for the time they prevent you from spending in prison? Not likely, but now they will gladly take 60% of your class action suit proceeds (plus lawyer fees) in exchange for helping with the class action case.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      alternatives(), 29 Jan 2016 @ 2:08pm

      Re:

      Am I the only one thinking it's odd

      I am posting to say that as far as I am concerned yes you are an odd thinker.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, 29 Jan 2016 @ 4:34am

    And Justice For All

    "Let's get back to justice. What is justice? What is the intention of justice? The intention of justice is to see that the guilty people are proven guilty and that the innocent are freed. Simple, isn't it? Only it's not that simple. However, it is the defense counselor's duty to protect the rights of the individual as it is the prosecution's duty to uphold and defend the laws of the state. Justice for all.

    Only we have a problem here, and do you know what it is? Both sides wanna win. We wanna win. We wanna win regardless of the truth. And we wanna win regardless of justice. Regardless of who's guilty or innocent. Winning is everything."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 6:07am

      Re: And Justice For All

      You can thank corporate interests and the innate human desire to turn EVERYTHING into a fucking competition.

      Even mothers will MURDER other little girls if it means their daughter gets a spot on the team.

      We are default evil and everything going on in society proves it!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2016 @ 4:59am

    "it is the prosecution's duty to uphold and defend the laws of the state"

    Sad they do not see it that way




    "Justice for all."

    If you can afford it

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 5:44am

    My brother-inlaw, about 23 years ago, got arrested while drunk for a charge that carried a 20 year sentence. The defender said they had to take the plea deal of 15 years unless they could come up with 20k to pay for their defense. This was a public defender.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 29 Jan 2016 @ 8:13am

    This is the result of a "Let the market take care of it" approach. When tax revenues are too low to fund state-provided services, the idea is to fall back on charities to fill the gaps. This isn't happening, which is why the system is falling apart.

    We The People need to have an adult conversation about the role of taxes in providing public services and whether or not they are willing to either pay for them or ditch the Constitution altogether. You know what scares me? The number of people I meet online who would gladly ditch the Constitution altogether. But that's what makes America great!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 8:24am

    Am I the only one thinking the state of Utah should get an unpaid public defender for this case?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Brad, 29 Jan 2016 @ 10:29am

    Did anyone else notice?

    I think it's funny that 2 states don't fund public defenders at all, but Utah is only 48th in the nation. Which means that some state funds it, but overall, the funding is still worse than a state that doesn't.

    Any idea what state that is?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Isma'il, 29 Jan 2016 @ 1:52pm

    Wendy, you hit the nail on the head.

    It's just like public funding for police, fire, libraries, schools, and any other local public-sector jobs. People get pissed about having to pay their local taxes where I live, and we're relatively low-tax compared to nationwide average.

    My answer to those who bitch about the taxes (and I have actually personally told a few of them this) is:

    "Are you ready to go out and enforce the laws, and arrest the "bad guys" yourself?

    Are you ready to run the municipal court system and act as prosecution, judge, and defense yourself?

    Are you ready to drive the fire trucks and put out the fires yourself?

    Are you ready to run the local library yourself?

    Are you ready to dig up and reinstall sewer and water pipes yourself?

    Are you ready to go teach the kids in school yourself?

    Are you ready to do all these things and more, ON YOUR OWN TIME and WITHOUT any pay???

    If the answer is "no", then STFU."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hopponit (profile), 29 Jan 2016 @ 2:52pm

    public defenders

    I wonder if this can and bite them in the end. My thought (vain hope, perhaps?) is that it will result in a court case later that will cost a ton of taxpayer money. Also a thought, if the local governments start having to pay for the defence of people they charge because of petty laws maybe they will drop some of them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 1 Feb 2016 @ 3:33pm

    Money issues

    You gotta love money issues like this: the state claims they can't afford a few million for defense attorneys, but they'll have to afford a law suit that comes their way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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