Appeals Court Allows ACLU Lawsuit Seeking to Fix Public Defense System to Proceed

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
April 3, 2013 2:09 pm

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LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that a class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to fix Michigan’s system for providing lawyers to poor people in criminal cases may proceed. This is the second time the state has unsuccessfully attempted to dismiss the case based on technical grounds.

In February 2007, the ACLU filed a class action against the state on behalf of all indigent criminal defendants in Berrien, Muskegon and Genesee Counties. The lawsuit calls on the court to rule that the state has failed to assure representation consistent with national standards and constitutional norms in the three counties.

In May 2007, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Laura Baird rejected the state’s calls to dismiss the lawsuit, but the state appealed all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court arguing government immunity for the state’s inaction, that class certification is inappropriate and that the plaintiffs cannot seek relief until after they are convicted. The Supreme Court rejected these claims in 2010 allowing the lawsuit to proceed. However, shortly thereafter, the state once again attempted to have the case dismissed on similar procedural grounds. Yesterday’s decision rejects the state’s claims for the second time.

The following can be attributed to Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan legal director:

We are hopeful that the stalling tactics of the state are behind us and we will finally have the opportunity to prove the well-documented fact that Michigan’s criminal justice system is broken for poor people accused of crimes. When the indigent defense system is broken, fair trials are impossible, innocent people go to jail, and the guilty remain free to commit other crimes. It it is imperative that this broken system be fixed and that all those accused of a crime receive the same quality of justice no matter how rich or poor.

Read the Michigan Court of Appeals decision here.

Read the ACLU brief on appeal.

Read the ACLU complaint here.

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