City Bar Urges Governor and Legislature to Support Full Funding of Indigent Defense Services Throughout New York State

The right to counsel in criminal proceedings is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the New York Constitution and state law; and in Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court held that states are required to provide counsel to any person charged with a crime who cannot afford a lawyer. However, New York’s County Law 18-B makes the 62 state counties responsible for providing indigent defense services, and has resulted in a “patchwork of services” that falls short of the constitutional mandate.

The report encourages the enactment of the Bill this session, which “would send the message to New Yorkers and to the country that New York State is committed to a fair criminal justice system where a person’s right to meaningful and effective counsel does not depend on his or her location within the State.” The Bill also would require the State to reimburse every county the full amount of its expenditures for providing indigent defense services. Additionally, it would require statewide standards and regulations that ensure every person has an attorney at arraignment, that regulate the caseloads of public defense attorneys so as to allow for meaningful and effective representation, and that improve the overall quality of court-appointed representation.

Public defense services in the majority of New York’s counties continue to lack appropriate resources. The 2014 settlement of Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York requires that adequate criminal defense funding be provided to the five counties of Suffolk, Ontario, Onondaga, Schuyler, and Washington that were defendants in that proceeding. The settlement also requires that standards be put in place for quality public defense services. The report notes that “New York’s other 57 counties remain underfunded, and defendants in those counties lack meaningful representation. Indigent New Yorkers in every county have the right to meaningful and effective counsel. With bill A.6202-C/S.6341-B, the Legislature now has the opportunity to fully fund each and every county’s indigent defense services.”

The City Bar recognizes that reducing incarceration in New York requires a multifaceted and multi-year effort. The first step, the report states, is “providing meaningful and effective legal representation to all indigent New Yorkers accused of crimes. Bill A.6202-C will do just that, and thus will prevent unnecessary incarceration and ensure a fair criminal justice system.”

The report concludes that, in contrast to the “disparate, inequitable, and ineffective system” observed by the Kaye Commission, this bill “potentially will transform New York’s public defense system into one that is fair, just, and effective and reduce the number of individuals who are wrongly incarcerated.”

The report can be read here: