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February 01, 2015

ABA president-elect presents indigent defense principles in NYC

ABA President-elect Paulette Brown presented the ABA Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System last month in testimony before a joint hearing held by two committees of the New York City Council that are examining how the city evaluates the effectiveness of its indigent defense services.

Brown applauded the council for tackling the indigent defense issue, saying that New York has been an innovator in holistic defense, digital forensics and community involvement.

“Indigent defense systems across the country have long been understaffed, underfunded and poorly trained,” she explained, but added that “the tide is turning” as a result of recent litigation and the creation of several indigent defense commissions.

Calling the ABA principles a “cornerstone of indigent criminal defense in America,” Brown quoted Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who said the principles have “not only given shape to our aspirations, but quite literally set the standard, and developed a framework, for progress.”

Brown gave the following overview of what the council should look for in an indigent defense system:

• the right structure that includes oversight by an independent, nonpartisan board and workload limits for attorneys;

• vigorous training, supervision and evaluation of attorneys, including training regarding collateral consequences of conviction such as deportation, work restrictions and mandated offender registration;

• proper screening of clients for eligibility to ensure proper representation;

• proper space for attorneys and clients to speak confidentially, and

• sufficient time for counsel to meet with clients to discuss, law, facts and procedures.

Brown emphasized the problem with excessive workloads and directed the committee to the ABA’s Eight Guidelines of Public Defense Related to Excessive Workloads. In addition, she noted that the ABA has created a National Inventory of the Collateral consequences of Conviction to help defense attorneys understand the impact of collateral consequences and  advise their clients accordingly.

Also weighing in on the issue was Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who emphasized that the city does not have to reinvent the wheel and should start by looking at how well the current system comports with the ABA’s principles.

“Any legislation to address quality should explicitly reference the Ten Principles as critical guideposts,” he said.

Others testifying before the council included representatives of the Legal Aid Society, the Bronx Defenders, and the Brennan Center for Justice.  

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