Pennsylvania’s highest court will allow criminal defendants to sue a county in an effort to prove a public defender’s office isn’t adequately funded to provide the constitutional right to an attorney, a victory for civil rights lawyers, reports the Associated Press. The unanimous ruling overturned a lower appellate court decision. Mary Catherine Roper of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said the ruling is not a final victory for the plaintiffs — two criminal defendants — in the lawsuit against Luzerne County in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Those plaintiffs, Adam Kuren and Steven Allabaugh, have since been convicted or pleaded guilty. The case is new avenue to force better representation for poor criminal defendants in Pennsylvania, the only state that leaves funding for the defense of indigent defendants entirely up to county governments, according to the ACLU. The ruling means that criminal defendants have standing to sue before their case is decided in an effort force counties to adequately fund the public defender’s office, Roper said.