Georgia’s Indigent Defense Act On the Chopping Block

27th February, 2015
Southern Center for Human Rights

ATLANTA, GEORGIA –A bill has been introduced to gut the Indigent Defense Act of essential provisions that safeguard the right to counsel for poor children and adults appearing in Georgia’s courts. House Bill 328 comes on the tenth anniversary of the implementation of Georgia’s Indigent Defense Act that brought full-time public defenders, dedicated juvenile defenders, and performance standards to counties across the state.

If passed, the bill would:

• deprive children of lawyers experienced in juvenile defense;
• allow detained people to languish in jail for weeks or months without any contact with a lawyer;
• remove any mention of “standards” from the Indigent Defense Act. It even takes “standards” out of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council’s name; and
• remove any requirement that attorneys appointed to represent poor people have experience or training.

Before the Indigent Defense Act, poor people accused of crime in many parts of the State routinely waited months before seeing a lawyer, oftentimes meeting them in court for several minutes before pleading guilty. In many cases, the lawyer knew nothing about the client, her case, or criminal law. In addition, many children were processed through courts with no lawyer at all. Recognizing this crisis, the Chief Justice’s Commission on Indigent Defense recommended, among other things, that the State (1) provide children with lawyers trained and skilled in juvenile defense, (2) create and implement performance standards for attorneys representing poor people accused of crime, and (3) ensure attorneys promptly meet with jailed clients.

Consistent with the Commission’s recommendations, the Georgia legislature passed the Indigent Defense Act. Core provisions included a requirement that each circuit public defender office establish a dedicated juvenile division and provide legal representation to detained people within three days of arrest. House Bill 328 would undo the Commission’s key recommendations, and the Act itself.

“This bill turns the clock back to a time when Georgia had no standards at all and aimed for the constitutional floor,” said Atteeyah Hollie, a staff attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights.

The amended House Bill 328 emerged in a legislative subcommittee the day before a court hearing in N.P. v. State, a lawsuit filed by poor children and adults challenging the inadequate legal representation provided by the Cordele Circuit Public Defender. N.P. seeks the enforcement of the very provisions that are written out of House Bill 328, namely the creation of a juvenile division of the Cordele Circuit Public Defender that specializes in defending children, and the prompt provision of counsel for poor adults in jail. If passed, House Bill 328 would strip poor children and adults of these important statutory protections.


To read House Bill 328, click here

 

For additional information, contact Kathryn Hamoudah at 404/688-1202 or [email protected]