CREO Public Defense Act of 2009 Memo

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Capital Region Ecumenical Organization Memorandum of Support of A 8793/S 6002 The Public Defense Act of 2009 The Capital Region Ecumenical Organization supports the passage of Bill A.8793/S.6002, The Public Defense Act of 2009, as well as the establishment of the Independent Public Defense Commission proposed within this bill. CREO is a Christian expression of a number of faith groups and faith-based organizations in our region. Over the past decade, we have studied and raised our voices on issu
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  Capital Region Ecumenical Organization Albany United Methodist SocietyAmerican Baptist Churches,Capital Area AssociationCapital Area Council of ChurchesCatholic Charities,Diocese of AlbanyEpiscopal Diocese of AlbanyEvangelical Lutheran Church inAmerica, Hudson Mohawk Confer-enceFocus Churches of AlbanyInterdenominational MinistersConference of the Capitol RegionPresbyterian Church, USAPresbytery of AlbanyReformed Church in America,Classis of AlbanyRoman Catholic Diocese of AlbanySchenectady Inner City MinistryTroy Area United MinistriesUnited Church of Christ,Hudson-Mohawk AssociationUnited Methodist Church,Troy ConferenceCoordinator,Misha Marvel 102 Arrow Wood PlaceMalta, NY 12020518-729-0278 Website pages hosted byAlbany Presbytery (PCUSA): Memorandum of Support of A 8793/S 6002The Public Defense Act of 2009The Capital Region Ecumenical Organization supports the passage of Bill A.8793/S.6002, The Public Defense Act of 2009, as well as the estab-lishment of the Independent Public Defense Commission proposedwithin this bill. CREO is a Christian expression of a number of faith groupsand faith-based organizations in our region. Over the past decade, we havestudied and raised our voices on issues of criminal justice in several areas of concern, including stopping the inhumane practice of Single Housing Unitsin state prisons, promoting alternatives to incarceration and prisoner reentry programs, urging the Cities of Schenectady and Troy to form a Gun ViolenceTask Force, as in the City of Albany, and most recently, seeking diversity inthe NYS Supreme Court and challenging the way in which Supreme CourtJudges are selected.We who follow Jesus’ commands to care for the poor and imprisoned need toinsist that our criminal justice system work as equitably as possible. Thecourt systems are where we meet and treat many of the poor in our soci-ety. These individuals are often unable to receive adequate defense beforetribunals except through the public defense system.Under the current system, cost and/or political agendas other than qualityrepresentation of defendants unduly affect the delivery of public defense ser-vices. Public Defenders are subject to undue pressure to keep costs down, or to quickly dispose of cases, and, as a result, they may not spend sufficienttime in preparing a case, or consult with experts who may be critical at vari-ous stages of the proceedings. They may be unduly pressured to pursue plea bargains when a properly prepared case might lead to a finding of innocence.Clergy and chaplains who minister to incarcerated men and women haveheard many stories of five minute interviews between assigned defense andtheir clients, barely enough time to meet the defendant, much less prepare a proper case. Some of these cases have come to our attention because theyhave been shared with the clergy by the frustrated lawyers or judges. Manyclaims of innocence may be justified. Public safety is not served by the cur-rent state of our public defense system.The need for improvements to the public defense system in New York Statehas been well documented by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye’s Commission onthe Future of Indigent Defense Services. That Commission called for wide-spread reform including an independent commission to oversee public de-fense services and a fully and adequately state-funded, statewide public de-fense system. While the Public Defense Act of 2009 would not fully imple-ment the Kaye Commission recommendations, it does address the need for creation and enforcement of public defense standards, by empowering the  creation of a Public Defense Commission.The Public Defense Act of 2009 mandates that public defense services must be overseen by an independentgoverning body that avoids fiscal, professional, and political conflicts of interest. This structure, along with therequirement for the system to protect clients’ confidential records, will help pave the way to a fairer criminal justice system.The proposed legislation strikes a proper balance by focusing both on the best interests of defendants, but also by requiring the Public Defense Commission to consider fiscal responsibility. This is a policy that not onlywill reduce taxpayer costs significantly; it will respect the dignity and worth of every human being and will potentially save lives.Other structural elements of the Commission’s work will improve representation of indigent defendants in theState of New York. Among these are representation on the Commission by individuals from various clientcommunities, and consideration of Commission membership that reflects the “geographic, racial, ethnic andgender makeup of the State and the cultural diversity of the State’s public defense clients.” This will go a longway in increasing public confidence in the criminal justice system.We are pleased to support this proposal for a solution. Under Bill A.8793/S.6002, the rights of the accused,whether guilty or innocent, are protected by an adequately funded and staffed defense system. There will bemoney to do investigations and pay for support staff.The Legislation proposes a practical approach to implementation including a phase-in period during whichtime specific changes can be carefully planned and introduced. Yet the time to begin this work is long overdue,and for these reasons, CREO supports the Public Defense Act of 2009 (A.8793/S.6002).
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