High Court To Take Up Issue Of Overburdened Public Defenders


The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a criminal case that could have a broad impact on the speedy trial issue, says the New York Times. The Vermont Supreme Court in March overturned the conviction of Michael Brillon, who had been found guilty of domestic assault as a habitual offender and sentenced to 12 to 20 years in prison. The court said the three-year delay in bringing the case to trial violated Brillon's rights. In urging the justices to hear the case, prosecutors said the ruling was “a first in the history of American jurisprudence,” because the delays had largely been caused by Brillon's own court-appointed lawyers. The general rule is that the right to a speedy trial is not affected by self-inflicted delays.

The Vermont court said the delays had been caused by overburdened public defenders and so should be counted against the state. “When, as in this case, a defendant presses for, but is denied, a speedy trial because of the inaction of assigned counsel or a breakdown in the public defender system,” Justice Denise Johnson wrote for the majority, “the failure of the system to provide the defendant a constitutionally guaranteed speedy trial is attributable to the prosecution, and not defendant.”

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/02/washington/02scotus.html?pagewanted=2&ref=us

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