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Juab County Ensures Constitutional Indigent Defense in Juab County Courts

The Utah Indigent Defense Commission (IDC) is pleased to report significant improvements to the quality and constitutionality of Juab County's local indigent defense services, through the first grant of state funds to supplement Juab's indigent defense budget.

This blog is reprinted from the press release of the Utah Indigent Defense Commission on April 20, 2017.

With state grant monies from the Utah Indigent Defense Commission, Juab County ensures constitutional indigent defense in Juab County courts.

The Utah Indigent Defense Commission (IDC) is pleased to report significant improvements to the quality and constitutionality of Juab County's local indigent defense services, through the first grant of state funds to supplement Juab's indigent defense budget.

With IDC grant money, Juab was able to contract with the Utah County Public Defender Association (UCPDA) to provide independent, experienced attorneys, with supervision and resources, to appear in Juab County Courts' appointed cases. UCPDA, located in Provo, is a well-established independent public defense service provider in Utah County.

Independence—the ability of a defender to represent clients vigorously without fear of retaliation or government interference—is a hallmark of a constitutional defense. See http://sixthamendment.org/the-right-to-counsel/national-standards-for-providing-the-right-to-counsel/the-constitutional-imperative-for-defender-independence-aba-principle-1/

Juab is among Utah's smaller counties, with around 11,000 residents and 400 court-appointed county cases where attorneys represent adults in criminal cases, children in juvenile delinquency proceedings, and parents in DCFS (delinquency and neglect proceedings) cases. Utah's smaller counties often provide public defense services by contracting with individual attorneys.

The potential pitfalls of this model are evident in the recent Utah Supreme Court case, State v. Hummel, 2017 UT 19, http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/supopin/State%20v.%20Hummel20170404.pdf. In Hummel, Garfield County contracted with an unsupervised public defender, who destroyed court orders appointing him to cases, and convinced indigent defendants to “hire” him privately for money and collateral. The attorney was convicted of five counts of theft and the Utah Supreme Court affirmed his convictions.

Prior to its IDC grant award, the attorneys handling Juab's appointed cases had little supervision and no true independence from potential government interference.

The problems with Juab's prior indigent defense model is evident in the recent Utah Court of Appeals case, State v. Martinez-Castellanos, 2017 UT App 13, https://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/appopin/State%20v.%20Martinez-Castellanos20170120.pdf. The Court of appeals reversed several drug-related convictions and required a new trial, because the assistance provided by appointed trial counsel fell below the quality guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. 

The immediate benefits of the IDC grant are clear in Juab County, where public defense services are now truly independent and constitutionally effective. Juab County is also experiencing the broader, systemic benefits of independent and constitutional indigent defense services. When public defense improves, everything in the criminal process improves, as competent public defenders with manageable workloads, independence, and access to resources, can protect the rights guaranteed by our Constitution; prevent expensive wrongful convictions and ensure appropriate sentences (both lowering costly incarceration rates); and provide meaningful adversarial testing of evidence, which ensures everyone in the system does thorough and reliable work.

Specific improvements in Juab include:

 ·       Cases are now being handled more appropriately with better communication between prosecutors and defense attorneys, which allows attorneys to better represent their clients.

·       The United States and Utah Supreme Courts have repeatedly held that constitutionally effective representation requires an adequate investigation of a case. With the IDC grant, defense attorneys were able to independently hire an investigator on a stolen car case. In the past, decisions to fund defense investigators were made by Juab County Commissioners with input from the Juab County Attorney, a clear compromise of the public defenders' independence. Now, the independent investigator uncovered information that law enforcement had failed to discover. As a result of the new evidence, prosecutors voluntarily dismissed the case, and local law enforcement is improving the quality of their investigations, reports, and general police work.

·       The right to counsel extends to any appeal from a criminal conviction, as well as to certain appeals from juvenile delinquency proceedings, and parental-termination orders. See Utah Code § 78A-6-1111(1)(e)(iii),(g). Appellate attorneys are similarly bound to provide constitutionally effective representation. Juab is ensuring that level of representation through UCPDA's experienced appellate attorney.

·       Utah's Rules of Professional Conduct prevent attorneys from representing clients when the representation of one client is directly adverse to another client. This situation occurs when an attorney is appointed to represent two co-defendants on a case. Yet many contracts for indigent defense services in Utah, provide no alternate contract for conflict counsel to represent the other party. With IDC grant monies, the UCPDA had the resources to ensure four co-defendants received constituently effective representation in a criminal prosecution.

 

 

These improvements to Juab County's indigent defense services indicate the tremendous potential Utah has to begin ensuring every county, city, and town provides constitutional, fair, and cost-efficient indigent defense services in every appointed case, using state appropriations to supplement local budgets to regionalize the delivery of public defense services across the state.

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