After he was charged with hitting his girlfriend in the face, career criminal Michael Brillon was jailed without bail for nearly three years, going through six public defenders before being tried for assault. The delays paid off, at least for Brillon, says the Associated Press. A Vermont court threw out his conviction and freed him from prison, saying his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial had been violated.
The U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the case this week, trying to decide if delays caused by public defenders can deprive a criminal defendant of that right. Can governments be blamed for such delays since they’re the ones who assign and pay the lawyers for indigent defendants? Forty states and 15 organizations–state governments, county governments, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and a victim’s rights’ group–are backing the Vermont prosecutor’s appeal of the ruling, worried that if it stands criminal suspects will try to game the system and get the result Brillon did. “You’re greasing that slippery slope,” said David Parkhurst of the National Governors Association, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the prosecutor’s appeal. “That’s the big concern here.” Brillon, a 46-year-old construction worker whose criminal past includes convictions for sexual assault on a minor, felony obstruction of justice and cocaine possession, was charged with aggravated domestic assault in the 2001 incident with his girlfriend.