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April 10, 2009

Illinois public defenders plead poverty to try to thwart capital prosecution

The Chicago Tribune has this notable article today, headined "Death penalty fund: Public defenders say they're out of money and can't defend man in death penalty case: State funds for this year have already run out."  Here are some excerpts:

In a novel legal move, court-appointed attorneys for a man charged in a double murder want the state barred from seeking the death penalty because a state fund to pay for the defense of capital cases has run out of money.

Without the funds, Assistant Public Defender Marijane Placek said, her office would be unable to pay for the help of expert witnesses, depriving her client, Brian Gilbert, of an adequate defense. Gilbert is charged in the 2007 fatal stabbing of his girlfriend's two sons, Marquise, 12, and Quinton Jackson, 14, after a quarrel over housework....

In a motion filed Wednesday, Placek informed Circuit Judge Thomas Gainer Jr. that the public defender's annual allotment in the fund had been used up.  She wrote that Gilbert has a long-standing, severe mental illness and that the case will require a massive amount of work to prepare for trial.  "We have no money to defend the death penalty," Placek said Thursday in an interview. "And for this reason, our client can't get a fair trial."...

Placek's motion is the first of its kind for the public defender's office but probably not the last, said Assistant Public Defender Julie Harmon, the office's capital case coordinator.  But she denied it's a new legal tactic to remove the threat of the death penalty for clients.  "It's not a strategy. It's a response to a situation," Harmon said.  "We may have to do it in multiple cases as the need arises. If there's a reason we can't do our job, we're going to file the motion."...

"We've never had this difficult of a situation before," Harmon said.  "Last [year] it got ugly at about the end of April, but we were able to prevail on our witnesses and experts, saying, 'OK, we'll be able to get you paid in September or October.' But then they ... still aren't paid in full.  They've just gotten fed up.  They're telling us they're not going to take anymore cases or they're going to do the bare minimum."

Sally Daly, spokeswoman for the Cook County state's attorney's office, said prosecutors intend to oppose the motion.

April 10, 2009 at 09:29 AM | Permalink


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Presumably, Mr Gilbert's mental condition has a bearing on his culpability at the guilt/innocence phase of the trial as well as at the sentencing phase. If he is found guilty and not sentenced to death, Gilbert is overwhelmingly likely to be sentenced to LWOP. Either way, he dies in prison.

While arguing that they do not have the funding to defend Gilbert against the death penalty, without arguing that they are unable to defend him against the murder charge, the public defenders implicitly endorse a lower standard of proof for non death penalty cases. A similar logic is displayed when governors, faced with niggling doubts over an inmate's conviction, 'commute' a sentence to LWOP. The end result is the same: The prisoner loses his liberty for the rest of his life and dies within the walls of the penitentiary. If representation is not good enough for a death penalty case, it is not good enough for any other murder or complex felony case.

Posted by: J Edwards | Apr 10, 2009 11:38:22 AM

This is brazen, naked rent seeking, and the real aim of the entire process.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 10, 2009 12:35:11 PM

SC. I disagree. I think that in capital cases the money argument is just a feint. The fundamental problem is that with poor defendants we expect the government (the state legislatures) to both pay to prosecute the accused and defend them. There is an obvious and profound conflict of interest here because the state legislature by its very nature is not a neutral body. So when it becomes politically inexpedient to kill people out right, it becomes much more tempting to kill people indirectly by refusing to pay for a legitimate defense. This general tendency becomes all the more acute in serious capital cases because of the amount of money thrown at the trials. Given limited resources and many competing imperatives, the truly difficult question is just how much justice we, as a society, are willing to pay for. There are no easy, let alone morally certain, answers to that question. But rent seeking theory does not explain it all, sorry.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 10, 2009 4:59:53 PM

Dan: I would argue anything short of OJ's Dream Team defense is inadequate defense.

The public defenders and the prosecution are inexperienced, lazy government workers working at the same salary, supervised by dead end civil service losers. Both sides owe their jobs to the criminal. They want nothing done to scare or upset the source of their jobs. For example, propose cheap caning, the death penalty, torture, or anything that really stops crime, they both freak out, mostly about the threat to their jobs.

The match is good now. Any funding given to the public defender should be matched by funding for the prosecution.

Here is something shocking. Berman will not tell you this outrageous fact because he covers up for the criminal cult enterprise. Prosecutors can be employees at will. That means, a political hack can fire them without reason. They can lose their vested retirements if the political hack tells them to drop a case, and they do not jump to it. They are totally at the mercy of these cult criminals.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 10, 2009 7:08:44 PM

SC wasn't there just a big stink over Bush hiring/firing based on political affiliation? Prosecutors are also elected just like politicians (Duke LaCrosse ring a bell?)

"The match is good now. Any funding given to the public defender should be matched by funding for the prosecution."

The 'state' has many more resources that most defendants have, they have many different departments working for them, from the police to forensics. Why don't we turn that around and say the defense gets the same funding as the state does? probably end up with a lot less convictions.

Posted by: MarkM | Apr 11, 2009 4:29:36 AM

Mark: I support all funding and efforts to increase accuracy of verdicts. In fact, public defenders are too quick to promote plea deals sometimes. Innocent people should not take plea deals.

Should prosecutors and public defenders be civil servants, to decrease political bullying? If not civil servants, at least contract employees with obstacles to brazen political interference?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 11, 2009 11:19:43 AM

Innocent persons take plea deals everyday. In the real world, people act to minimize their exposure to risk; in this case, incarceration. An innocent person would be even more likely to minimize his risk. Using a hypothetical: agreeing to five years to avoid a very likely life sentence is just another day on the criminal docket in Texas. I suspect that one of the motivating factors for one of the people's lawyers to even offer a five is the suspicion that the defendant might be innocent.

Posted by: Mark | Apr 11, 2009 2:02:11 PM

The lawyer cult criminal is in utter failure. A bunch of innocent people are crowding stir. A bunch of real bad guys are loose, victimizing the public.

It is time to fire this lawyer cult criminal. I would like to see a movement of crime victims just beat them up, the lawyers, the judges, the pro-criminal advocates. If they fail to learn, shun them, a boycott by all service and product providers. Draft lawyer control statutes, banning them from all policy positions. If they maintain their rent seeking criminal enterprise, start executing the internal traitors. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 11, 2009 9:30:45 PM

I would like to comment on the issue presented here. what do we do when a lawyer, (like me, a private attorney) gets appointed to represent a defendant charged with capital murder. The DA schedules the case to begin on May 18. Then a couple weeks ago, I get a memo from the Administrative Office of the Court that they will run out of money to pay lawyers in early May and won't have any money again until the new fiscal year in July. Figuring it will take a month or so to catch up on backlog, I can probably count on not getting paid until August.

So, of the dozens of people, prosecutors, judge, clerks, reporters, officers, bailiffs, etc. I will be the only person who will go without pay for about 3 to 4 months, all the while trying to figure out how to pay my staff of four?

It's easy to make flippant comments about this issue, but trust me, it is a real concern.

bruce cunningham

Posted by: bruce cunningham | Apr 12, 2009 12:14:29 AM

Bruce: You need a lawyer, to review your legal rights, to sue for payment, to request a lien on the courthouse, and on the salary of the judge that engaged you.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 12, 2009 6:15:17 AM

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