ACLU Utah Launches New Public Defense Campaign
August 27 marks the four year anniversary of the ACLU of Utah’s report entitled Failing Gideon. ACLU communications director Anna Brower says the report found Utah’s public defense system was failing on all ten of the principles set forward by the American Bar Association.
“Some of the common problems that we saw throughout the state included public defenders with extremely heavy workloads, far in excess of what is recommended by the American Bar Association,” Brower said. “We found county prosecutors were actually involved in contracting decisions for public defenders, which means the public defense function in that county was not actually independent. There was an extreme lack of parity in resources between prosecution and defense. Somewhere between three to five times the amount of money was being spent on prosecution as was being afforded for public defense.”
Utah's current system does not provide state funding and requires each county to fund its own public defense system.
“This is especially difficult for rural counties. They may not be able to pay an attorney enough to adequately represent their clients," Brower said. "The practical impact of that is people sitting in jail who haven’t been ruled guilty or innocent or anything are just sitting in jail for days or weeks waiting to see a public defense attorney.”
The campaign entitled Yes on 6 aims to encourage the state and counties to find ways of providing adequate sixth amendment rights to citizens regardless of their financial standing.
“This is our way of saying it is time for Utah to take seriously all of the information that we have gathered over the past four or five years that indicates we are horribly failing people who come into the criminal justice system who can’t afford a private attorney,” Brower said. “Our hope is that we will be able to actively push for a legislative solution that is constitutionally adequate.”