Washington, DC (Sept. 17, 2015) – Late last week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an amicus curiae, or friend-of-the-court, brief in a putative class action suit currently before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania concerning the inadequate funding of the Luzerne County public defender's office. In its brief, the thrust of the argument made by United States, through the DOJ amicus brief, is that a civil claim for constructive denial of counsel under the Sixth Amendment is cognizable:
The Sixth Amendment right to counsel requires more than the mere appointment of a member of the bar. The right of indigent criminal defendants to be provided an attorney may be violated by the government's actual denial of counsel, or by a constructive denial of counsel. A civil claim for systemic prospective relief based on constructive denial of counsel is viable: (1) when, on a system-wide basis, the traditional markers of representation – such as timely and confidential consultation with clients, appropriate investigation, and meaningful adversarial testing of the prosecution's case – are absent or significantly compromised; and (2) when substantial structural limitations – such as a severe lack of resources, unreasonably high workloads, or critical understaffing of public defender offices – cause that absence or limitation on representation. (DOJ Brief at 11.)
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) President E.G. "Gerry" Morris said: "This important filing adds to a line of filings across the nation suggesting a Department of Justice that is ever more focused on the reality and consequences of the tragic overburdening and under-resourcing of public defender offices across the nation. Though today we celebrate Constitution Day, we must be mindful, as reflected in this and numerous other cases, that the Sixth Amendment's promise of the ‘Right to Counsel' for all accused of a crime, regardless of one's ability to pay for an attorney, remains unfulfilled. NACDL and indeed all who are concerned with the vitality of the rights of the accused are heartened by the increased frequency and force with which the Department of Justice is weighing in on these matters. It makes a difference."
NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer said: "The DOJ echoes what NACDL has long maintained: An overburdened, under-resourced attorney is tantamount to no counsel at all. The Sixth Amendment right to counsel is a real and vital right. It is not a fiction or a sham. It is a core value in the Bill of Rights that honors the dignity of the individual. It is time to stop paying lip service to it, and start honoring it in every case and in every criminal court in the nation."
NACDL, together with its Pennsylvania affiliate PACDL, also filed an amicus curiae brief in this matter in support of appellants in this case. In that brief, NACDL and PACDL make the case that "appellants have stated a claim for constructive denial of counsel because the allegations of the amended complaint demonstrate that there are systemic deficiencies in the Luzerne County Office of the Public Defender that create imminent and unacceptable risk that appellants' right to counsel will be violated in ways that cannot be cured by post-conviction review." The brief also points out that the problems confronting indigent defense services are systemic and extend throughout the Commonwealth and the nation.
To learn more about NACDL's extensive work in the area of indigent defense, please visit www.nacdl.org/indigentdefense.
Pattern Cross-Examination for DNA and Biological Evidence: A Trial Strategy Guide
NACDL’s Pattern Cross-Examination for DNA and Biological Evidence will assist criminal defense practitioners in scoring points when cross-examining forensic experts in cases involving DNA and biological evidence. This resource contains thousands of questions that will help defense lawyers cross-examine challenging witnesses without reinventing the wheel with each new case. It includes pattern questions that can be used to dominate prosecution DNA experts and level the playing field at trial.
Cross-Examination of the Analyst in Drug Prosecutions (2nd Ed.) By James M. Shellow
Now in its second edition with some new material, James M. Shellow’s book offers what its title promises: ways of thinking about cross-examining the forensic analysts in drug cases. But the book is so much more than that. It offers a look inside the mind of one of the finest cross-examiners and defense lawyers the United States has produced in the last seventy years. This small book can inspire and direct you in making big changes in the way you defend your clients and think about the entire project of trying any case.
Justice For All, Justice Now White T-Shirt (Women’s)
This custom, vintage-faded NACDL t-shirt is 50% polyester, 25% cotton, and 25% rayon weighing 5.2 oz. and is lightwieght, flexible and soft, providing maximum comfort. It features the "Justice For All, Justice Now" slogan and Lady Liberty image on the front, with the NACDL logo on the back. Currently available in both men's and women's sizes in both black and white colors. View the full line-up of colors and sizes on our online store, as well as our other popular and best-selling t-shirt designs at: nacdl.org/store.
Drug Cases Resource Materials Collection - CD-ROM
NACDL’s Drug Cases Resource Materials Collection is the sweeping culmination of every single article of written materials ever published from each installment of NACDL's annual "Defending Modern Drug Cases" seminar. Totaling over 12,000 pages, this vast collection includes 12+ years of motions, briefs, reports, outlines, transcripts, case citations, scholarly articles, powerpoints and other written commentaries. This collection provides trial strategies and tactics you can immediately apply to your current cases.
Mental Illness & the Law: Addressing and Litigating Behavioral Health Disorders in Criminal Cases
Whether it is insanity, impairment, a disorder, or adolescent brain development; mental health and intellectual competence issues affect pretrial supervision, trial and sentencing, and your chances of successfully advocating for your impaired client. This training provides ideas and proven solutions to assist you in advocating for your client during trial, whether it be insanity defenses, jury selection, cross of expert witnesses, persuasion, or mitigation at sentencing.
Ivan J. Dominguez, NACDL Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.