Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

More on GA Indigent Defense Legislation

Posted by Maggie on March 14, 2008

The AJC reports today that HB 1245 has cleared the House Judiciary Committee. The main concern with the current version of HB 1245 is that it may strongly affect when a defendant gets to meet with counsel. GPDSC’s standards call for a visit within 72 hours of incarceration. This happens in 95% of cases, based on 2007 GPDSC data. HB 1245 changes this rule to five business days. And only upon request to see an attorney.

I don’t really understand the point of this bill. Is it supposed to save money? Or keep those who aren’t indigent from access to indigent defense? Because for most defendants, the cost to take on their case really is minimal. They’re still one among hundreds. And if it’s about money then this is completely the wrong approach. David Dunn, the Circuit Defender for Lookout Mountain:

Allowing defendants quick access to an attorney is more cost efficient, Dunn said. With the help of a lawyer, a defendant charged with a non-violent or petty offense can get a bond, reducing jail costs. The longer a person who has a job stays in jail, the more likely that person will lose the job and become indigent, he said.

“If we do this …, it’s not going to be a cost savings; it’s going to be a cost increase,” Dunn said.

I’m willing to bet that the cost of keeping someone in jail for 5 days is significantly more than their the cost of their entire defense (assuming there are no multiple-day trials involved). To me, this looks like the legislature taking advantage of the multitude of GPDSC’s problems and finding yet another way to make it more difficult.

But I also hope that it won’t have much of a practical effect. PD’s are PD’s for a reason, and they will most likely still do their best to meet with clients as soon as possible after incarceration.

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