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MICHIGAN SUPREME COURT DOES AN ABOUT-FACE AND HOLDS THAT AN INDIGENT CRIMINAL DEFENDANT DOES NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO A SKILLED CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY

The court appointed counsel system in Michigan has been under-fire for some-time now.  Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of the worst systems in the country.

 

According to a study commissioned by the State Legislature that evaluated Michigan's Public Defense System, a team of national experts found that our state fails to meet nationally recognized standards.

 

The study failed Michigan in almost all of its standards.  Michigan lacks consistent statewide qualification standards for public defense attorneys.  Some courts have their own standards, but others have no minimum qualifications for some types of cases.  Those courts that do implement competency standards are very limited and do not appropriately measure experience or ability.

 

In addition, there are no statewide performance standards or oversight mechanisms, leading to wide variations in the quality of justice.  The review process, if any, varies from court to court.  Some Judges evaluate the attorney's performance in non-systematic ways, while other courts have no real supervision or file review.

 

Given these shortcomings, one would think that Courts would take an opportunity to improve Michigan's system.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  On July 16, 2010, the Michigan Supreme Court dealt the court-appointed attorney system another blow by reversing itself and dismissing a case that could have established minimum standards for court appointed defense counsel.  See Duncan v. Michigan.

 

Instead of bolstering Michigan's system, the Court's 4-3 decision held that nothing in the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of legal counsel requires that an indigent defendant be provided a particular attorney, one of a particular skill level or that the defendant and his counsel have a right to "a meaningful relationship."

 

The Campaign for Justice is working to educate state legislators about the need to reform the state's public defense system.  Together with other state and national organizations, the Campaign for Justice strives to implement statewide standards that would improve cost effectiveness, protect the public's safety and ensure one's Constitutional right to counsel.

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