Giving Compass' Take:
- Caleb Bedillion explains how Mississippi has failed to provide legal representation to poor criminal defendants despite recent laws securing representation.
- How can donors support criminal justice reform?
- Learn more about the funding gap in criminal justice reform.
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Three months after Mississippi’s Supreme Court directed judges in the state to ensure that poor criminal defendants always have a lawyer as they wait to be indicted, one of those justices acknowledged that the rule isn’t being widely followed.
“We know anecdotally that there’s a problem out there,” Supreme Court Justice Jim Kitchens said during a state House of Representatives committee meeting on the public defense system last week.
That means Mississippi’s “dead zone” — the period during which poor people facing felony charges are left without a lawyer while they await indictment — persists in many counties.
At the first court hearing after someone is arrested for a felony, a judge is supposed to decide whether the defendant can be released from jail and should appoint a lawyer if they can’t afford one.
In many Mississippi courts, that lawyer stays on the case for a short time to handle initial proceedings, including a possible motion for bond reduction, and then exits. Only after the defendant is indicted, which often takes months, is another lawyer appointed. In the meantime, no one is assigned to the case, even if the defendant is in jail.
“Mississippi stands alone as the only state that has this problem,” public defense expert David Carroll said at the state House hearing.
Read the full article about criminal justice and inequity by Caleb Bedillion at The Marshall Project.