Cuomo Denies Legal Rights of the Poor
Hawkins would Provide Full State Funding for Public Defense
Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor, said today that he supported the state taking over the public defense system in NY to ensure adequate funding for legal representation for poor New Yorkers. The program should be headed by an independent public defense commission
"Our criminal justice system discriminates against the poor while Wall Street banksters who defrauded and stole billions from homeowners and pensioners go free. 51 years after the Supreme Court ruled in Gideon that Americans have a constitutional right for legal representations, that right is still denied in New York," said Hawkins.
A report by the New York Civil Liberties Union showed that poor New Yorkers are often forced to appear in court without a lawyer or with a revolving cast of overworked attorneys unfamiliar with their cases. Public defenders routinely have caseloads up to five times the recommended maximums. People who have not been convicted of a crime can await trial in jail for months when an attorney might have negotiated their release – and they lose their jobs, homes and even ailing partners and children as a result.
In Hawkins' home county of Onondaga, which has more than 10,000 public defense cases a year, a third of the defendants never met with an attorney outside of court. A Syracuse Post-Standard review of assigned counsel lawyers' visits to jailed clients found that some of the lawyers had as many as 40 clients and visited the county jail only twice a month. Most defendants ended up pleading guilty to criminal charges.
OnondagaCounty prosecutors have 35 times more public funds for investigating their cases than the public defense lawyers have. In 99.7% of cases, investigators were not hired by public defense lawyers. OnondagaCounty has an assigned counsel system rather than a public defenders office.
A lawsuit by the NYCLU over the inadequate funding for public defenders has been pending for seven years and may finally get a hearing next month. Attorney General Eric Holder is supporting the class action against Governor Cuomo and the State of New York for violating the rights of New Yorkers who cannot afford to hire an attorney.
"While Cuomo's underfunding deprives thousands of basic due process, Eric Schneiderman remains silent. As Attorney General, I will take seriously my responsibility to protect the rights of citizens in this state including the poor and indigent," said Ramon Jimenez, the Green AG candidate.