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Unequal Justice for the Poor in New York

January 18, 2017, on Articles |

Being represented by an attorney is one of the fundamental rights of criminal defendants. When you are represented by a skilled and knowledgeable Schenectady criminal defense attorney, you can develop an effective trial strategy that is aimed at avoiding conviction or at least minimizing possible criminal penalties for your charges.

Unfortunately, some people cannot afford a lawyer.  The Sixth Amendment guarantees indigent defendants the right to have an attorney regardless of their ability to pay, but the New York Times reports that there is a “crisis” when it comes to legal aid funding.  New York lawmakers tried to address the problem but a unanimous bill to provide state funding was recently vetoed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. 

The Problem of Unequal Justice for the Poor

According to the New York Times, lawmakers in New York unanimously passed a bill that would require states to cover the costs of legal services for defendants who are too poor to pay for a lawyer. 

In 1965, the state of New York pushed responsibility for providing legal aid to 62 different country governments instead of taking responsibility at the state level for funding legal services. Since that decision was made, many counties have struggled to come up with the funds to provide sufficient services.  The unanimously passed bill would have addressed this problem.

Although all lawmakers were in support of the bill, Governor Cuomo vetoed it because he accused lawmakers of including $600 million in legal aid costs that were not needed to pay lawyers representing defendants accused of crimes.  Governor Cuomo has stated that he would sign a bill that allows for funding to ensure legal counsel in criminal cases only. The cost of such a bill would be around $150 million, which is far less than what the legislature asked for.

The New York Times is urging lawmakers to pass a new bill that Cuomo would sign because it is a big problem in the state that so many defendants cannot access effective legal services in a timely manner.

In some counties, defendants who cannot pay for lawyers end up waiting in jail for months until they are finally able to meet with an attorney for the first time.  Public defenders who do finally provide representation to defendants may also be juggling around 700 different cases at one time. This is more than double the number of cases legal experts recommend for legal aid attorneys take on at one time.

This problem has been going on for a long time, with the New York Times indicating a report dated back in 2006, which described the legal aid situation for indigent defendants in New York as “severely dysfunctional.”

Hopefully, a new bill can soon be passed and signed to provide solutions to this serious problem, as anyone who is accused of a crime deserves to have a knowledgeable and skilled legal advocate who has the appropriate time and attention to give to their case.  If you are a defendant who is accused of wrongdoing, you should contact the criminal defense attorneys at The Law Office of James E. Tyner, PLLC as soon as possible for help.