Georgia Case Shows Shortcomings Of Indigent Defense Systems


Jamie Weis, accused in 2006 of killing an elderly neighbor in Georgia, had two state-appointed lawyers defending him from capital murder charges for more than a year, the National Law Journal reports. When the state ran out of money to pay them, the trial judge removed them, appointing public defenders who spent nearly two years trying to withdraw. Weis, in jail now for four years, is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review what he claims is a breakdown of Georgia’s public defender system. Weis wants the justices to make clear that “lawyers are not fungible,” said lead counsel Stephen Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta.

Indigent defendants, Bright said, have the same Sixth Amendment right to continuity of counsel once the attorney-client relationship is established as do those defendants with the means to hire lawyers. That right, he and his colleagues contend, was violated in the Weis case. Weis’ petition for review comes at a time when an increasing number of legal challenges are being made to underfunded and overburdened state indigent defense systems. Several lawsuits are pending in Georgia, and courts in New York and Michigan have given the green light to class actions against those state systems for alleged failures to provide adequate legal representation.

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