Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson Calls for the Creation of an Independent Public Defense Commission

Ruth Hassell-Thompson

March 18, 2009

We are here to commemorate "Gideon Day".  Although it has been over 45 years since that historic landmark Supreme Court decision, defendants are still not receiving their right guaranteed by the Constitution to an effective defense.  We can no longer ignore the rights of defendants in the criminal justice system, who deserve equal access to quality representation and justice.

 A blue ribbon commission created by former Chief Judge Judith Kaye reported in 2006 that the system is failing to meet the State's constitutional and statutory obligations to protect individual rights. 

 In particular, we have seen that  the quality of representation for minorities continues to be woefully inadequate.

    · Excessive caseloads mean no time for lawyers to prepare cases and advise clients.

    · Lack of access to experts, investigators, and other resources prevents adequate defenses.

 The acknowledged "ongoing crisis" in public defense carries unacceptable fiscal and human costs, including:

    · wrongful incarceration of individuals,

    · painful breakup of families that could have been reunited, with resulting foster care costs,

    · communities suffering from unnecessary and expensive exile of their residents to far-away
      state prisons, and

 As the Chairwoman of the Senate Standing Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections, I am committed to working with my colleagues to establish an Independent Public Defense Commission to ensure that New York will finally implement Gideon to ensure justice for all New Yorkers