Our Voice: Michigan Finally Considering a Public Defender Facelift

Recently, the Detroit Free Press posted an interesting article about the call to upgrade Michigan’s woefully inadequate public defense system.  You can read the full article here

Most public defenders in Michigan are appointed by the Courts.  Some lawyers make a career of going from Court to Court and getting on “lists” for the Courts to appoint them to cases.  They get paid an hourly rate that varies, but there are always limits.  From working at the Court of Appeals, my experience was that the attorneys charged the maximum amounts they could and then just did as little work as possible.

I haven’t taken an appointed case, so I don’t have that experience.  While I do offer pro bono representation to clients in need who I believe are innocent, I’ve never been attracted to the idea of doing what feels like “begging for scraps” in going around and asking a judge to “pretty please” hand me a case that I can work on as a public defender.

There is no shortage of attorneys who do jockey and position themselves to get appointed cases, though.  And that’s why I hope that whatever decision is made will include more than just throwing more money at the problem.

I think we need a “checks and balances” system for the quality of representation that the publicly defended are receiving.  If the State is going to spend money to defend someone, we should be sure that the money is going to actually defending them.

Other states have this in line, and the article in the Detroit Free Press seems to indicate that Michigan might be heading that way.  There needs to be accountability.  When a case is handed to a defender under the current system, there is no one watching to ensure that the attorney actually does a good job.  Did the attorney research to see if there were any Constitutional violations?  Did the attorney make the prosecutor hand over the 911 tapes, in-car videos, and all of the documents and witness statements?  Too often, the answer to these questions is no.

Without accountability, no amount of money is going to fix the problem.  If we’re going to spend more, we need to make sure that a true public defender’s office is put together, with teams to supervise and review the work conducted in the office.

I’ve met public defenders from California, Colorado, and Louisiana at seminars that I’ve attended around the Country.  When I talk to them about their cases, I can see that they invest the same amount of time and energy into their cases that I do into mine.  They care about their clients and have one goal:  justice.  They fight.  They struggle.  They win.

I’d love to be able to say the same thing about Michigan.  Hopefully, some day I will be able to.

Read more of our thoughts on choosing an attorney or public defender here

Have you had a good or bad experience with a public defender? Or just a lawyer in general?

If you are seeking legal representation for your criminal charge contact Ambrose Law Group at 248-624-5500 or visit our website www.ambroselawgroup.com

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3 Comments

Filed under All About Hiring An Attorney, Lawyers

3 responses to “Our Voice: Michigan Finally Considering a Public Defender Facelift

  1. I’ve taken level 2 assignments from Oakland County for years. The pay is awful, but someone has to watch out for the rights of the accused. I’ve won five of the last six of my court-appointed jury trials. Quite a few of these clients plead guilty because they are guilty. Sometimes, we get an offer to a reduced charge because the prosecutor knows that I will try the case.

    The legislation referenced in the Detroit News article linked to your blog post will have a difficult time getting passed due to funding issues. Also, a recent constitutional challenge to our current system went down in flames when the Mich Supreme Court reversed itself in a confusing order.

    Until the cops come busting through your door, most folks do not care for the rights of the accused.

    • Timothy, I am really glad to hear of your success and willingness to defend those in need. It really isn’t about the money. The problem that I see are the people who continue to take cases, barely look at the files, and then don’t give their clients a fighting chance. It’s particularly painful when the client actually is innocent.

      For example, we took over pro bono for a young man facing three counts of attempted murder. The public defender we replaced had hammered him hard to wave his preliminary examination. At the preliminary examination, we ended up discovering the evidence that proves that our client’s story is true and that he was the victim himself and not the aggressor. I fear this happens far too often.

      Keep up the good fight!

  2. It appears that there does need to be oversight of these public defenders. It is unfortunate that some criminal defendants are not getting quality representation from public defenders.

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