ACLU slams Michigan's public defense system

“Michigan’s public defense systems are widely considered an embarrassment. Although the constitutional obligation to provide the indigent with defense counsel rests with the states, Michigan long ago delegated that responsibility to its 83 counties and then turned its back. Without state oversight, most counties never provided their public defense attorneys with the tools they needed to do their jobs. These deficiencies were never remedied. Today, the overwhelming majority of Michigan’s public defense systems are seriously under-funded and poorly administered.”

So begins a new report issued by the ACLU, the ACLU of Michigan and the Michigan Campaign for Justice.

Faces of Failing Public Defense Systems” is a chilling document that tells the stories of 13 people who fell victim to a terribly flawed system.

“Just like the freedoms of speech and religion, the right to bear arms, the right to an adequate defense is enshrined in the Bill of Rights and is a fundamental duty of our government. Yet, a recent examination of ten Michigan counties found that none of them provided public defense services that were constitutionally adequate.”

And for those of you who might think this is only an issue of concern for bleeding-heart liberal types, pay close attention to the economic implications:

“So far, the miscarriage of justice in these thirteen cases has cost Michigan’s taxpayers more than $13 million in unnecessary incarceration costs, court costs, attorneys’ fees and compensation for wrongful imprisonment.”

And that’s for just these 13 cases. As the report notes, “Lawyers, academics and others estimate that hundreds, if not thousands, of Michiganders have been wrongfully incarcerated because of the counties’ failing public defense systems.”

Several of the cases recounted in the report are familiar to the readers of the Metro Times.

Staff writer Sandra Svoboda wrote a two-part cover story and numerous follow-up pieces about Temujin Kensu (who was known as Frederick Freeman before his conversion to Buddhism).

Kensu, who was represented at trial by an attorney known to be a crack cocaine addict, has credible witnesses who swear he was 450 miles from the scene of the crime when the murder he’s been convicted of committing occurred in Port Huron. He remains in prison, awaiting a new trial.

His story is in “Reasonable doubt, Part 1” and “Reasonable doubt, Part 2.”

Svoboda also wrote about the case of Ken Wyniemko, who spent nearly a decade in prison after being wrongly convicted of rape in Macomb County. DNA evidence was eventually used to win his release.

His story is told in the article “Beyond Innocence.”

David Tucker was 21 when convicted of assault with intent to convict great bodily harm after a 45-minute bench trial. His defense attorney did no investigation and prepared no defense. Released after serving four years in prison, the Detroit man continued to fight to clear his name after being released on parole. The charges against him were eventually dismissed.

You can read about his case in a story titled “Judging the judge.”

Karl Vinson has been imprisoned on a rape charge for 24 years and remains there now even though a recent analysis of his blood revealed that semen found at the scene of the crime was not his.

Our News Hits staff wrote about his case in a piece titled “Evidence lost and found.”

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