Michigan Court of Appeals Allows Duncan Case to Move Ahead

Ruling a call to action for lawmakers to reform public defense services in Michigan

Today, the Michigan Court of Appeals released an opinion affirming a lower court ruling in Duncan et. al. v. State of Michigan, allowing the case to move forward in Ingham County Circuit Court and denying again the State’s efforts to have the case dismissed.  In the Duncan case, plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit from three counties asked the court to declare that failures in Michigan’s public defense system violated their right to counsel under the U.S. and Michigan Constitutions.

In agreeing with the lower court, the Appeals Court said, “Without an action such as this, and assuming plaintiffs’ allegations are true, indigent persons who are accused of crimes in Michigan will continue to be subject to inadequate legal representation without remedy unless such representation adversely affects the outcome. Our system of justice requires effective representation, not ineffective but non-outcome determinative representation.”

In response to today’s release from the court, Marcela Westrate, executive director of the Michigan Campaign for Justice, said that the ruling reinforces the desperate need for legislators to pick up where they left off in 2012 and adopt bipartisan indigent defense reform legislation.

“This ruling is very important for our system as a whole but also as a call to action for state legislators that reform is needed and that their work on this important constitutional problem is required.  Indigent defense reform was not on the list of issues completed in the last legislative session, but lawmakers have been working on it again this spring and now is the time to make it happen.”

In June 2012, State Reps. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) and Ellen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods) introduced bipartisan legislation creating a new statewide, permanent commission to oversee indigent defense services in Michigan.  The commission would establish statewide standards, identify and share best practices and provide recommendations for funding, bringing the state closer to constitutional compliance than it has ever been.  The legislation attracted more than 65 co-sponsors in the State House, both Republicans and Democrats, and was approved by the House in early November with amendments adding oversight by the Michigan Supreme Court.

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