Washington, DC (August 14, 2014) – Relying heavily upon the federal and state constitutional right to counsel, earlier this week, a Louisiana State Court ordered the State of Louisiana to fund the defense of several indigent persons accused of criminal wrongdoing, including the cost of experts and investigators. The State of Louisiana's position is that it does not have funds to pay for the defense in this case.
Baton Rouge Attorney James E. Boren was appointed by the Honorable Judge Trudy M. White of the 19th Judicial District Court to represent Nathaniel Turner in a complex, multi-defendant case involving racketeering and other charges against nineteen defendants, a number of whom are indigent, including Turner. When appointed to represent Turner, Boren reserved the right to seek compensation for his services. Shortly after he was appointed, Boren filed and, joined by others, litigated a Motion to Determine Source of Funds to Provide Competent Defense "to determine a source of funds that will provide for competent and compensated defense counsel and litigation assistance for Turner in the charges brought against him, and in support thereof[.]" Similar motions were brought or joined in by other indigent defendants in the case.
A hearing was then held on July 3, 2014. At that hearing, with resource support from the Indigent Defense Committee of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), NACDL Past President and a leading expert on legal ethics John Wesley Hall delivered expert testimony on the ethical issues that would arise from an attorney not receiving funding is such a case. After the hearing, counsel for each of the indigent defendants submitted budgets to the court for in camera inspection.
By Order dated August 12, 2014, Judge Trudy M. White, citing U.S. and Louisiana Constitutional right to counsel authority, found that "it is the State's obligation to fund the defense of the Indigent Defendants" in this case. Furthermore, Judge White's order states that "if the requirements placed on appointed counsel are unreasonable this results in an unconstitutional taking of the appointed counsel's property rights." The Court found the budgets submitted by counsel to be reasonable and "determined that a reasonable amount of money to be allocated to the defense of the Indigent Defendants in $3,000,000[,]" which amount also covers experts and investigators, which the Court said are "necessary in order to prepare a competent and proper defense in this case." Accordingly, the Court stayed the case for 60 days to allow the State to fund the $3,000,000 necessary for the defense of the indigent accuseds. And if sufficient funds are not appropriated, the stay will remain in effect and the Court will promptly hold a hearing "at which time the State, through the Legislature, will be ordered to show cause why the Indigent Defendants should not be released without bond until such time as sufficient funds are made available to fund the defense of this case."
NACDL President Theodore Simon said: "This is a significant victory for fairness, justice, and the fundamental right to counsel that every person – regardless of financial means – enjoys and to which they are constitutionally entitled. Appointing counsel to represent the indigent while failing to provide the resources necessary to adequately discharge and support that representation produces results that are inaccurate, unfair and unjust. Judge White’s ruling avoids what would otherwise be a sham trial that would make a mockery of the constitutional right to counsel. We applaud the Court’s order as, sadly, it is all too often in jurisdictions across the country that those who serve as public defenders and who are appointed to represent the indigent are overburdened and under-resourced, all to the detriment of the fundamentally fair and equal criminal justice system that we believe in, aspire to, and which is certainly constitutionally required. Those accused of wrongdoing – who are presumed innocent until proven guilty -- must be defended. The Court’s order, in its findings and in its ruling, captures the true promise of Gideon, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Sixth Amendment right to counsel."
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