Posted: July 2, 2013 4:25 PM
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation Monday that will overhaul the state’s indigent defense system.
The new law, which was introduced by Sen. Bruce Caswell (R-Hillsdale) and Rep. Tom McMillin, (R-Rochester Hills) will create the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission, a 16-member panel that will be tasked with creating and enforcing minimum standards for legal representation in jurisdictions across the state. It will also require the state to fund local improvements mandated by the commission if costs exceed the average indigent defense spending in that area over the course of the previous three years, reported Michigan Live.
"We're solving a problem that we've had in Michigan for far too long," Snyder said at the signing, where he was joined by lawmakers, attorneys and the sister of a man who spent 17 years in prison for a crime he was wrongly convicted of.
"This is about one's constitutional rights to have competent legal counsel. Everyone deserves it. Everyone deserves appropriate justice. In Michigan, we've had quality problems in the past in terms of inconsistencies by jurisdiction and by different courts, and it was time to solve that problem."
Inadequate defense contributes to an unknown number of wrongful convictions across the country. The case of Innocence Project client Eddie Joe Lloyd, who spent 17 years in Michigan prisons for a crime he didn’t commit, serves as an egregious example. The attorney didn’t cross-examine the police officer most directly involved in coercing a false confession from Lloyd, he called no defense witnesses, and he gave a five minute closing argument.
Lloyd’s sister Ruth Lloyd Harlin attended the bill signing and spoke to Michigan Live.
"His attorney was inadequate, and that's what this is about -- inadequate counsel for the indigent," said Harlin, who has worked with the Michigan Campaign for Justice to share her story and advocate for improvements. "Our family suffered a whole lot, and we're still suffering because of what happened to Eddie."
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