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Fresno County Cuts Breaking Public Defense System

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 16, 2015

FRESNO, Calif. (CN) - Fresno County refuses to fix its broken public defense system, where public defenders juggle hundreds of cases a year and can't provide indigent clients meaningful representation, the ACLU says in state court.

"Our adversarial criminal justice system rests on the premise that the prosecution and defense each thoroughly investigate and vigorously argue the facts and the law before a neutral fact-finder, who is then able to find truth and do justice," the American Civil Liberties Union says in a complaint filed on behalf of three county residents against the county, California and Gov. Jerry Brown.

"But in Fresno County, persons accused of a crime who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer are effectively tried within a system where the prosecutors determine the outcome with little or no input or challenge from the defense," the complaint states.

The imbalance in the system is the result of failures by the county and state to satisfy their constitutional obligation to provide meaningful and effective representation to all indigent persons accused of a crime, the complaint says, alleging violations of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

 ACLU attorney Novella Coleman told Courthouse News that Fresno County "consistently maintains that its public defense system has always satisfied the requirements of the Constitution, but the county is concentrating on the physical presence of the public defender at the hearings."

"The county's stance doesn't actually acknowledge that there are certain requirements that constitute adequate representation," Coleman said.

 A typical attorney with the Fresno County Public Defender's Office handles an average of 418 felony cases per year, even though national standards set the maximum caseload for felony cases at 150 per attorney, the ACLU says.

Read the whole story at Courthouse News Service

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