Are Michigan public defenders improperly pushing the poor into copping pleas? The Michigan Supreme Court will consider that question in a case challenging how publicly appointed lawyers represent poor criminal defendants, reports the National Law Journal. At issue is whether cash-strapped public defenders are violating the constitutional rights of defendants by too eagerly encouraging plea bargains, as opposed to vigorously fighting the charges.
Plaintiffs contend that the public defender systems in some counties are so bad that poor people are pleading guilty because, for all practical purposes, they are given no other choice. Critics charge that public defenders would often meet their clients for the first time in court; investigations were rarely done; and witnesses were not interviewed. Michigan is one of the few states that leave the expense of public defenders up to the counties. Legislation is pending to create a statewide public defender program in Michigan.