March 22, 2016: Governor Cuomo Should Join Legislature in Funding Criminal Legal Services for Indigent, State Bar Urges

Senate and Assembly Budget Proposals Call for State Funding and Oversight

The New York State Bar Association is urging Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators to work together to move the state toward “its constitutional obligation” to provide effective legal representation in all 62 counties to low-income individuals who are accused of crimes.

In a letter to the governor delivered March 18, State Bar Association President David P. Miranda noted the Senate and Assembly both have advanced one-house budget proposals dealing with state funding and oversight of indigent criminal defense services. (March 31 is the deadline for passage of the state budget.)

In October 2014, the State of New York settled a related lawsuit seeking state funding for five counties. “The Legislature’s proposals relate to the 2014 settlement for the Hurrell-Harring v. State case, which ensures that the state provide funding to meet the constitutional obligation for services to indigent criminal defendants in Suffolk, Ontario, Onondaga, Schuyler and Washington counties,” the letter said.

“As you work with the Legislature during the 2016-2017 budget process, I urge that the final budget include provisions that would move New York State toward meeting its constitutional obligation to provide effective criminal defense services to all indigent New Yorkers,” Miranda wrote.

The letter to Governor Cuomo is available at: www.nysba.org/CuomoLetter3-18-16.

Background

The Hurrell-Harring case, brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union, accused the state of failing to provide adequate legal defense for the poor in five counties. The Cuomo administration settled the case the day before it was to go to trial, agreeing to pay for improvements in those counties.

The settlement, which applies only to the five counties, requires the state Office of Indigent Legal Services to monitor legal services in those counties and to develop standards for caseloads and provision of legal services.

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright that states must provide legal representation to criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. The State of New York then mandated that counties and the City of New York bear that responsibility.

Since then, the county-based legal defense program has been criticized as inadequate. A 2006 report by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye’s Commission on the Future of Indigent Legal Services concluded there was “a crisis in the delivery of defense services to the indigent throughout New York State and that the right to the effective assistance of counsel, guaranteed by both the federal and state constitutions, is not being provided to a large portion of those who are entitled to it."

The report is available at:
www.nycourts.gov/ip/indigentdefense-commission/IndigentDefenseCommission_report06.pdf

The problems that existed throughout the system, the report said, included excessive caseloads for defense attorneys, the inability to hire full-time attorneys, lack of adequate support staff and lack of adequate training.

Senator John A. DeFrancisco, R-Onondaga, and Assemblywoman Patricia A. Fahy, D-Albany, are sponsoring similar legislation (S.6341-A and A.6202-B) that would require the State of New York—rather than the counties—cover the cost of providing criminal defense services to low-income people and ensuring the quality of mandated representation.

The 74,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.

Contact: Lise Bang-Jensen
Director, Media Services and Public Affairs
Lbang-jensen@nysba.org
518-487-5530