Pubdate: Sat, 31 May 2003
Source: Anderson Independent-Mail (SC)
Copyright: 2003 Independent Publishing Company, a division of E.W. Scripps
Author: Emily Huigens, Independent-Mail
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Racial Issues)


A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision could push caseloads over the top for 
public defenders' offices across the country.

People facing jail time or probation for misdemeanor crimes such as driving 
under the influence or marijuana possession now are entitled to public 

The court's decision last year in the case of Alabama v. Shelton requires 
states to provide representation for poor clients who face any possibility 
of jail time, said Scott Wallace, director of defender legal resources with 
the National Legal Aid and Defense Council.

"The basic rule is if you want to lock someone up, they've got to get a 
lawyer," he said.

Mr. Wallace said states appear to be taking different approaches to 
complying with the decision, although he was quick to note that he didn't 
know of a single state in full compliance. Some states have gone so far as 
to consider decriminalizing minor offenses, and a few legislative bodies 
are debating eliminating minimum sentencing guidelines, he said.

In Anderson County, attorneys have relied on pre-trial diversion in which a 
defendant accused of a misdemeanor will avoid the possibility of jail time 
by paying a fine or performing community service, Public Defender Robert 
Gamble said.

In Georgia's Mountain Judicial Circuit covering Stephens, Rabun and 
Habersham counties, Public Defender Drew Powell is struggling to provide 
misdemeanor representation. So far, his office has begun working on 
misdemeanor cases in only one of the circuit's three counties.

Judge James Cornwell submits the budget for the Mountain Judicial Circuit 
Superior Courtsystem to county commissioners in Stephens County.

He has warned the commissioners that they must prepare to provide attorneys 
for defendants accused of misdemeanors. Although a new indigent defense 
system will move much of the financial burden to the state in 2005, 
counties still will have to pay for non-felony indigent defense, he said.

"The county has to consider Alabama v. Shelton in how they're gong to fund 
indigent defense," he said. "They have to plan to allocate more funds to 
indigent defense."
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