Southern Center Files Suit in Cordele Circuit, Again, for State of Indigent Defense There

The AJC reports that The Southern Center for Human Rights has filed suit against GPDSC, its director, the Circuit Public Defender, the District Attorney and others for the state of indigent defense in that circuit. The suit is brought on behalf of 8 indigent defendants, juvenile and adults individually and as representatives of a class of indigent criminal defendants. The suit alleges that adult defendants are forced to wait for months with no contact or minimal contact with a lawyer. In some instances, a non-lawyer investigator has relayed plea offers just before trial. Juveniles have found themselves at some hearings with a lawyers and at others without. The Circuit has no juvenile public defender, and (according to the complaint) when the lawyers are off in court someplace else in the circuit, juvenile court continues, with or without counsel.

In 2003, the Southern Center sued officials in the Cordele Circuit for what was then a contract public defender system. According to the press release that was issued when the recent suit was filed:

The public defenders are unable to spend more than a few minutes per case.  Many poor people accused of crimes meet a public defender who knows nothing about them or their charges for the first time in court.  After a hurried conversation, many enter guilty pleas and are sentenced.  All but a few convictions are obtained through guilty pleas by people who do not receive the most basic elements of legal representation such as substantive attorney-client interviews, investigations, motions practice, and informed, professional advice about whether to plead guilty.

The well-written Complaint may be found here (pdf). The press release is also worth reading.

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