Attorney General Holder Supports Greater Funding of Indigent Counsel: Cites Michigan as an Example of a State in Need
Michigan appointed counsel have been fighting for greater funding of indigent cases. They have both filed a suit challenging the lack of funding and started a lobbying initiative for increased funding. On Tuesday, they received the support of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. In a speech to Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, Attorney General Holder supported the Brennan Center's work to increase funding and access to counsel in several states including Michigan. The Attorney General then spoke of the delay in appointing counsel in many jurisdiction, and that when counsel was appointed, that counsel was often not meaningful. He stated with underfunded and overworked defenders, mistakes happen. He cited to the example of Eddie Lloyd from Michigan who was wrongfully convicted of rape and murder of a girl and spent seventeen years in prison for the offense. Because of a substitution of appointed counsel shortly before trial, no investigation had been done:
Let me give you just one example of all of the losses associated with the crisis in representation. Eddie Joe Lloyd served nearly 17 years in a Michigan prison for the murder and rape of a young girl -- crimes that DNA evidence later proved he did not commit. Lloyd's appointed attorneys -- one replaced another a week before trial -- failed to conduct any investigation. No one ever cross-examined the police about Lloyd's false confession -- which Lloyd gave to the police while he was a non-voluntarily committed patient in a mental health hospital. No one ever interviewed Lloyd's family or his doctors. No one visited the crime scene, or challenged Lloyd's competence. The appeals and the 17 years of imprisonment cost Michigan nearly a million dollars, and that amount does not include the $4 million civil judgment Lloyd later obtained for his wrongful conviction. And of course there is the real danger to the community of having the actual murderer and rapist remain at large some 20 years later
The Attorney General went onto note the 50 habeas corpus cases granted against various officials of the State of Michigan as evidence that the system is penny wise and pound foolish. The Attorney General further noted that a report commissioned by both houses of the Michigan Legislature found that in many Michigan counties " defendants are charged and plead guilty to crimes that carry jail time without ever speaking to a lawyer." The Attorney General further noted that because of a chronic lack of resources, many counties, in turn, rely on so-called "flat-fee" contracts that pay lawyers the same amount regardless of how much (or more likely, how little) time the attorney spends on each case. He also blasted county based funding systems noting that in those systems "the quality of legal representation that a defendant receives may end up being determined by the side of a county line on which the crime was committed." A bill is currently pending in the Michigan Legislature to create a state wide trial defender network modeled after SADO. Hopefully the Legislature listens to the Attorney General's advice. You can read the entire speech here.