“The Right to Counsel: Badly Battered at 50″ (At a Great Moment for Hope and Change)

(Douglas A. Berman) The title of this post is drawn in part from the headline of this notable commentary by Lincoln Caplan, which appeared in yesterday’s New York Times.  Here are excerpts (with a final key point stressed by me below):

A half-century ago, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone too poor to hire a lawyer must be provided one free in any criminal case involving a felony charge.  The holding in Gideon v. Wainwright enlarged the Constitution’s safeguards of liberty and equality, finding the right to counsel “fundamental.”  The goal was “fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law.”

This principle has been expanded to cover other circumstances as well: misdemeanor cases where the defendant could be jailed, a defendant’s first appeal from a conviction and proceedings against a juvenile for delinquency.

While the constitutional commitment is generally met in federal courts, it is a different story in state courts, which handle about 95 percent of America’s criminal cases.  This matters because, by well-informed estimates, at least 80 percent of state criminal defendants cannot afford to pay for lawyers and have to depend on court-appointed counsel.

Even the best-run state programs lack enough money to provide competent lawyers for all indigent defendants who need them.  Florida set up public defender offices when Gideon was decided, and the Miami office was a standout.  But as demand has outpaced financing, caseloads for Miami defenders have grown to 500 felonies a year, though the American Bar Association guidelines say caseloads should not exceed 150 felonies.

Only 24 states have statewide public defender systems. Others flout their constitutional obligations by pushing the problem onto cash-strapped counties or local judicial districts.

Lack of financing isn’t the only problem, either. Contempt for poor defendants is too often the norm.  In Kentucky, 68 percent of poor people accused of misdemeanors appear in court hearings without lawyers.  In 21 counties in Florida in 2010, 70 percent of misdemeanor defendants pleaded guilty or no contest — at arraignments that averaged less than three minutes….

The powerlessness of poor defendants is becoming even more evident under harsh sentencing schemes created in the past few decades.  They give prosecutors, who have huge discretion, a strong threat to use, and have led to almost 94 percent of all state criminal cases being settled in plea bargains — often because of weak criminal defense lawyers who fail to push back….

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A Zombie in the Wild

(Eric Rasmusen) I have long thought fairly highly of the Atlantic, both as a magazine and as a blog. So the following article by Richard Gunderman1 is disheartening to read. It is a perfect example of the very zombie I am trying so hard to kill: the “Standard Story” that unquestioningly accepts the generally-incorrect conventional explanations without (for obvious reasons) providing data to back them up. So I thought I’d spend this post attacking it point by point, just so it is clear how deeply flawed the conventional story is, and to highlight the dubious arguments that are so often made in favor of it.

Gunderman starts with the standard it-isn’t-crime explanation:

Why have U.S. incarceration rates skyrocketed? The answer is not rising crime rates. In fact, crime rates have actually dropped by more than a quarter over the past 40 years.

His statement that crime has dropped by 25% over 40 years is wrong in several ways. As the graph below (taken from here) shows, crime has only been dropped since 1991, which is 24 years ago. Between 1974 (that’s 40 years ago) and 2011 (the last year for which the FBI has data), violent crime has risen by 23%, and property crime has falled by just over 2%. The net change: + 0.1% (since there is about 10 times as much property crime as violent crime). So he is just factually wrong.2

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But looking at the graph reveals another, deeper problem with his analysis. Given that crime soared from 1960 to 1991 (with a little pause for violent crime in the early 1980s), why present just a single percent-change number? If we want to understand why prison populations have risen sharply since the mid-1970s, we can’t just ignore the unprecedented rise in crime that accompanied the first 20 years of prison growth.

Furthermore, if we want to understand why crime remains such a politically powerful issue, just note that despite the crime drop since 1991, violent crime is still 100% higher than it was in 1960, which were the formative years of the politically-powerful Baby Boom cohort. And much of the drop since 1991 has come through self-protective measures that don’t necessarily make us actually feel safer (security systems, not going out at night, etc.). So we are still a relatively violent country by historical standards for a large bloc of voters.

For more crime related updates, call or visit Best Detroit Lawyers. 

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When It’s Crunch Time, Rely on The Best Detroit Criminal Lawyer Available

Criminal lawyers generally work for people who are accused of felonies such as murder, assault, family violence, probation violation, traffic violations, domestic violence, embezzlement, etc. The service of a Detroit criminal lawyer is to essentially ensure that ones legal rights are adhered to in the court of law.

Since criminal consequences may include fines, possible imprisonment, and probation, it is always advisable to hire the best criminal lawyer you can afford, one with expertise and experience. Various resources are available to find a competent and experienced criminal lawyer. Referrals are always considered to be the most important source; the name of a competent criminal lawyer may come from any circle such as friends, colleagues, family, etc. If you do use the Internet, make sure you perform due diligence for your final selections. It will be well worth the extra time you take to make sure you have a qualified candidate and one that will fight for your rights and freedom.

Best Detroit Criminal Lawyer

If you find a particular lawyer competent enough to handle your case, you can certainly approach him/her. Professional legal organizations are also an excellent source of finding a criminal lawyer. Offices of organizations such as National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) in the state of Michigan, will provide competent attorneys in the state. Some organizations offer referral services even through Internet. Additionally, the service of local bar associations can be utilized to gather information on a perspective criminal lawyer such as how much experience a particular criminal lawyer has in this field. Lastly, other more conventional sources can be little nuggets as well: telephone directories, yellow pages, and newspapers.

The Internet is undoubtedly the most valuable tool to search for a reputed criminal lawyer. Some of the online directories available are CriminalLawyerSource.com, Lawyers.com, FreeAdvice.com, BestDetroitLawyers.com, and FindLaw.com, etc. These directories provide easy access to legal information and other related sources.

“Sex Offender Seeks Admission to Kentucky Bar”

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article discussing a notable dispute concerning the potential professional collateral consequences of getting convicted of downloading the wrong dirty pictures.  Here are the details, followed by a bit of commentary: 

Guy Padraic Hamilton-Smith graduated in the top third of his law school class at the University of Kentucky, but the state Supreme Court blocked him from taking the bar exam because he is a registered sex offender.  In the first case of its kind in Kentucky, the court rejected Hamilton-Smith’s bid and a move by the state Office of Bar Admissions to create and endorse a blanket rule that would have kept all registered sex offenders from gaining access to the bar.

“Rather, we believe the better course would be to allow any applicant for bar admission who is on the sex offender registry the opportunity to make his or her case on an individualized basis,” Chief Justice John D. Minton wrote in the Dec. 19 opinion on Hamilton-Smith’s case and the proposed rule.

Hamilton-Smith, who was convicted of a charge related to child pornography in 2007, has until Jan. 13 to ask the court to reconsider its decision. In an email, Hamilton-Smith referred Associated Press questions to his attorney, who said the reconsideration request will be filed.

Nationally, cases of felons seeking admission or re-admission to the bar are common. But situations of registered sex offenders attempting to do so appear to be rare. Beyond a recent rejection in Ohio and an ongoing case in Virginia, legal experts and those who work to rehabilitate sex offenders couldn’t recall a similar situation arising in recent years.

But Shelley Stow of Reform Sex Offender Laws — a Massachusetts-based organization that seeks to ease restrictions on offenders and promote rehabilitation — said she wouldn’t be surprised to see more cases out there. “It is so difficult for registrants to even get jobs and support themselves and function day to day, let alone pursue a law career,” she said.

The Kentucky case brings up the question of how to treat someone who has admitted to criminal activity, wants to rehabilitate himself and serve others, but is still monitored by law enforcement, said Hamilton-Smith’s attorney, Scott White, of Lexington. “It’s a highly stigmatized thing,” White said.

Hamilton-Smith pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a child in March 2007. He received a five-year prison sentence, which was suspended, and was required to register as a sex offender for 20 years — until 2027.

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Prosecutorial Discretion in Bond

(Richard M. Re) Who would have thought that Bond v. United States — today’s much-awaited decision involving the Chemical Weapons Convention — would have so much to do with prosecutorial discretion? Yet prosecutorial discretion appeared repeatedly in the Court’s consideration of the case, serving different purposes each time.

First, the fact of prosecutorial discretion is the critical factor explaining why Bond even arose. By way of background, the defendant Bond used certain harmful chemicals to retaliate against a romantic rival. Bond was then prosecuted for violating federal legislation implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention. In Bond, the Court relied on federalism canons to conclude that the implementing legislation didn’t reach Bond’s conduct. A major theme of the majority opinion is that Bond is an “unusual” and “curious case” that is “worlds apart” from what anyone would have associated with the Chemical Weapons Convention or its implementing legislation. Another major theme is that the “common law assault” at issue in Bond would normally be handled by state and local government. But if that’s so, then why was the defendant federally prosecuted? The answer is that the federal prosecutors involved in the case concluded — contrary to the intuitive view — that the Convention’s implementing legislation properly applied.

Second, prudent use of prosecutorial discretion was a source of comfort to the majority, since it meant that the Court’s statutory holding wouldn’t have harmful effects. “[W]ith the exception of this unusual case,” Bond noted, “the Federal Government itself has not looked to section 229 to reach purely local crimes.” Instead, federal authorities had previously used the relevant statutory authority primarily to prosecute things akin to “assassination, terrorism, and acts with the potential to cause mass suffering,” and the Court declined to “disrupt the Government’s authority to prosecute such offenses.”

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