An editorial in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press points to role of the state’s small budget for indigent criminal defense in convicting the innocent and driving up state costs further down the line – in wrongful conviction lawsuits and in prison overcrowding.
A robust and efficient indigent defense system will save money by reducing wrongful-conviction lawsuits, making sure poor defendants don't get unjustifiably long sentences, and keeping innocent people out of prison. Each person wrongfully incarcerated costs Michigan taxpayers $35,000 a year. Moreover, when innocent people are convicted, the guilty remain at large. Getting it right at trial is especially important in Michigan's current judicial climate, in which appellate courts practically rubber-stamp criminal convictions.
…"In theory, truth emerges when two equal adversaries — with equal resources — battle it out in the courtroom," said F. Martin Tieber, an East Lansing appellate attorney and former deputy director of the State Appellate Defender Office. "That's the basis of our justice system. With Michigan's abysmal public defense system, however, it often doesn't work that way. Innocent people are convicted, and other people are convicted of more serious offenses than they should be, leading to longer sentences. It creates a lot of unnecessary spending on prisons."Bad lawyering is a leading cause of wrongful conviction nationwide. Three people have been exonerated by DNA testing in Michigan to date, and there are countless others seeking to overturn convictions for crimes they say they didn’t commit.
Read the full editorial here. (Detroit Free Press, 03/08/2009)
The case of Eddie Joe Lloyd is a prime example of the failure of the state’s indigent defense system to protect the innocent. Lloyd’s court-appointed attorney withdrew from his case eight days before his scheduled 1985 trial, but the trial wasn’t postponed. The new appointed attorney never met with the previous attorney, called no defense witnesses and gave a five minute closing argument. Lloyd was convicted and spent 17 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence.