An Ongoing Crisis: 10 Critical Problems in NY Public Defense
Adapted from the 2006 report to former NY Chief Justice Judith Kaye
New York’s current fragmented system of county-operated and
largely county-financed public defense services fails to satisfy the
state’s constitutional and statutory obligations to protect the rights
of the person accused.
- There is no statewide standard that defines “adequate” public
defense and there exists no mechanism to enforce any particular
set of standards.
- The amount of money currently allocated within the State of
New York for the provision of constitutionally-mandated
public defense is grossly inadequate, leading to . . .
(a) excessive caseloads
(b) inability to hire full-time defenders
(c) lack of adequate support services
(d) lack of adequate training
(e) minimal client contact and investigation
- The current method of providing public defense services
in New York imposes a large unfunded mandate by the State
upon its counties, results in a very uneven distribution of
services and compromises the independence of defense providers.
- In Town and Village Courts, in which a majority of the justices
presiding are not lawyers, there is a widespread denial of the
right to counsel and even a lack of clear understanding as to
which cases trigger the right to counsel.
- There is a significant statewide disparity between the resources
available to public defenders and those enjoyed by prosecutors.
- There are no clear standards regarding eligibility determination
- The lack of more open discovery procedures and variations
in discovery practices impedes the efficient expedition of cases,
timely investigation by the defense, including location of
witnesses, and gives rise to unfairness. This necessitates more time and effort on the part of defense lawyers.
- Defense providers are not providing the requisite counseling
with regard to collateral issues that can affect critically a
defendant’s case, especially those regarding a defendant’s
immigration status. Insofar as minorities are disproportionally
represented in the criminal justice system, this failure has
particular implications for individuals in those communities.
- There is no comprehensive system of data collection designed
to provide accurate statistics regarding the provision of public
criminal defense services in New York. The absence of such a
system significantly hampers the ability of policy makers and
administrators to make informed judgments and plan meaningful
improvements in the administration of public defense services.
- The Kaye Commission's ultimate conclusion, based on all the
information that was presented to it, is that the delivery
system most likely to guarantee quality representation to those
entitled to it is a statewide defender system that is truly
independent, is entirely and adequately state-funded and is
one in which those providing public defense services are
employees of entities within the defender system or are participants
in an assigned counsel plan that has been approved by the body
established to administer the statewide defender system.