Michigan Legislature Works to Reform State’s Broken Indigent Defense System while Commemorating 50th Anniversary of “Gideon Day”
House and Senate Pass Resolution in Honor of Landmark Civil Rights Case as Lawmakers Work to Create New Defense Standards
LANSING, MI – The Michigan Campaign for Justice today praised Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature who today commemorated the 50th anniversary of a landmark United States Supreme Court civil rights ruling by formally proclaiming March 18 as “Gideon Day” and pledging to continue efforts to reform Michigan’s broken indigent defense system.
The proclamation, sponsored by state Senator Bruce Caswell (R- Hillsdale) and state Representative Tom McMillin (R- Rochester Hills) comes as lawmakers in both chambers consider recent reform recommendations developed by the Indigent Defense Advisory Commission and aimed at ensuring every resident’s constitutional rights are protected while keeping our communities safe and as McMillin is featured in a new national documentary highlighting the need for reform.
“Gideon Day offers us a critical reminder about the importance of upholding every citizen’s constitutional rights,” said Marcela Westrate, Executive Director of the Michigan Campaign for Justice. “The Michigan Legislature should be applauded for recognizing the importance of standards that ensure the rights of the accused are protected in Michigan and they are doing tremendous work to reform the state’s system.”
Both the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution guarantee the right to counsel in all critical stages of a prosecution where the prosecution may result in the actual deprivation of the defendant’s liberty as well as guaranteeing defendants in criminal prosecutions the right to effective assistance of counsel.
March 18, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright which affirmed and guaranteed the right to an attorney for individuals accused of a crime. The right to an attorney was echoed in the drafting and implementation that same year of Michigan’s own Constitution, though the Indigent Defense Advisory Commission recently highlighted the need for reforms to protect that right.
In commemoration of Gideon Day, the Washington, D.C. based Constitution Project released a new documentary titled “Defending Gideon” pointing out how far America remains from meeting that requirement. State Representative McMillin is featured in the film, as are stories of innocent Michiganders who were tragically failed by the indigent defense system.
“For years, problems within our indigent defense system have cost taxpayers money and cost many residents years of their life as a result of being wrongfully convicted and imprisoned,” said Westrate. “2013 marks both the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision affirming the right to an effective criminal defense and a great year to fix Michigan’s failing indigent defense system.”
Defending Gideon can be viewed at http://vimeo.com/constitutionproject/defending-gideon.
The Michigan Campaign for Justice heads a broad-based coalition of organizations and individuals from across the political spectrum fighting for a fair and effective public defense system in Michigan. The Campaign believes that legislative reform is needed to improve cost effectiveness, protect the public’s safety and ensure one’s Constitutional right to counsel. Find out more at: mijustice.org.