We have all likely heard the phrase informing a person of his or her right to an attorney when they are arrested. In the Miranda rights that are read to a suspect, it follows that if a person cannot afford an attorney, he or she will be assigned one. In Michigan, however, many people are challenging the efficacy and fairness of the state's system of court-appointed attorneys. A person who is facing felony charges deserves more than what they are getting.
A representative for the American Civil Liberties Union has sued the state of Michigan arguing that poor people are getting unfair and insufficient legal representation. Because of this, more and more poor people are put in jail for a crime they did not commit.
For example, one man served 35 years in prison for an assault he says he had no part in. He was assigned a court-appointed attorney. After a two-day trial, the lawyer encouraged the man to take a plea deal, which he refused. It took 35 years behind bars before the man was be able to prove that he was already in custody at the time of the attack and could not have been in two places at once.
It is unfortunately very common for court-appointed attorneys in Michigan to carry such a heavy load of cases that they cannot devote much time or attention to any one in particular. Therefore, their clients are encouraged to accept a plea bargain to keep things going so they can move on to the next case. This system, many say, is broken and poor people are the ones who suffer.
Whether a person has no money or millions of dollars, each person who is facing serious charges deserves to be represented effectively in court. No one deserves to go to prison for a crime they did not commit.
Source: NPR, "Michigan Finally Eyeing Changes To Lawyers For Poor," Carrie Johnson, June 14, 2012