ACLU Welcomes Michigan Supreme Court Order Allowing Public Defense Case to Proceed

December 01, 2010

Detroit – The American Civil Liberties Union applauded a Michigan Supreme Court decision today allowing its lawsuit to proceed that seeks to fix Michigan’s system for providing defense to poor people in criminal cases. In April, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously rejected the State of Michigan’s attempts to dismiss the case and, in an about-face just 3 months later, reversed its decision. Today’s order vacates the July 16, 2010 decision and reinstates the original order sending the case back to Ingham Circuit Court to rule on the merits of the case.

In February 2007, the ACLU filed a class action against the state on behalf of all indigent criminal defendants in Berrien, Muskegon and Genesee Counties. The lawsuit was filed in Ingham County Circuit Court and called on the court to declare the current public defense systems of the three counties unconstitutional and compel the state to assure representation consistent with national standards and constitutional norms.

In May 2007, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Laura Baird rejected the state’s calls to dismiss the lawsuit, but the state appealed. In June 2009, the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected the state’s attempts to dismiss the lawsuit and allowed the lawsuit to proceed.

The following can be attributed to Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan legal director:

“The unanimous Supreme Court was correct in April and is correct again today. It is widely accepted that Michigan’s criminal justice system is broken for poor people accused of crimes. When the indigent defense system is broken, everyone suffers. Innocent men and women end up in prison while the perpetrators are left on the streets to commit more crimes.”

To read today’s order, click here.
To read more about the Court's April 2010 order allowing the case to proceed, click here. 
To read more about the Court's July 2010 reversal, click here.

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