Saturday, October 21, 2006

Law Enforcement Burdened by Public Defenders Enforcing the Constitution

Skelly has a nice post following up on the scandal of indigent defense that occurred in Grant County, Washington. This happened before I got to this great state, but apparently, those charged with defending the poor in Grant were not living up to their ethical obligations. As a result, the ACLU filed a lawsuit, and a new crop of public defenders are in town. And according to Skelly, who is like Woodward and Bernstein rolled into one with his well-placed sources, prosecutors aren't happy with the results. It seems that these new public defenders are insisting on interviewing the witnesses in their cases! They want to interview the cops! They want to interview everyone! And this is just too much for those sworn to uphold justice, one of whom apparently complained to a judge in open court that having to be interviewed by defense attorneys was overburdening law enforcement! This is priceless.

A bit of background on Washington criminal procedure. Unlike in Texas, where criminal law is largely trial by ambush, in Washington, the defense has a right to interview any witness the state plans on calling in their case in chief. If the listed witness won't talk to you, you can make the prosecutor set up the interview for you! You actually have the right to ask the witness questions before you have to cross-examine him in court! Civil attorneys might be familiar with this procedure which they call discovery. Criminal defense lawyers, depending on their jurisdiction, may be shocked. Anyway, I would guess from the current complaints that the old lawyers representing the poor in Grant County weren't all that keen on interviewing many of the witnesses in their cases. But now, the new public defenders are, and it's making things hard for the poor police officers and prosecutors. Excuse me while I wipe away the lone tear slowly falling from my eye.

Maybe now, the police and prosecutors will have to exercise some judgment and discretion in the cases they file. This actually is a good example of why it is important that everyone, even the guilty, need zealous representation when accused of a crime. If the prosecutors and police officers know that if they will have to truly have the evidence to convict and not just to enough to charge, that a defense attorney will be there to make sure that they do, in each and every case, even when the accused has very little resources of his own to fight, then those police and prosecutors will be more careful about just filing charges in every case because they can, and the innocent will be less likely to be convicted, and less likely to suffer the burdens of being wrongfully accused--which for a person living paycheck to paycheck can include everything from losing your job and your housing amont other things--in the first place.


Anonymous Gideon said...

So... I linked to this post. Apparently, there is no trackback link - so I thought I'd let you know :)

10/21/2006 1:27 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Our discovery is a lot like yours in Washington, it seems, with the exception that our DAs seem to get their collective noses out of joint whenever we interview "their" cops or "victims" outside their presence. They have a hard time understanding that they represent the "people" or the "state," not the cops or the "victims." There is no right of victims or cops to have attorneys present during questioning, in spite of the prevailing belief of our prosecutors.

10/21/2006 3:44 PM  
Anonymous Sanchovilla said...

If the listed witness won't talk to you, you can make the prosecutor set up the interview for you!

You had me at this sentence.

I was just in Washington this weekend (thankfully not for work) and had I known that interviewing witnesses was this easy up there, I would have started filling out job applications long ago!

10/23/2006 2:32 PM  

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