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Accused Criminals Sue to Get Lawyers

Not Enough Public Defenders in Hampden County

News Staff

August 01, 2004  (03:00:35 EST)

HAMPDEN COUNTY, MA - Dozens of indigent prisoners held in Hampden County joined in to challenge the right of the State to hold them without counsel for prolonged periods of time.

In the case of Nathaniel LAVALLEE & JUSTICES IN THE HAMPDEN SUPERIOR COURT, (a consolidated case with others named and joined), SJC-09268, June 30, 2004. - July 28, 2004 the court ordered new rules as to how long defendants may be held without counsel, and how long the State can continue cases where no counsel is available.

The problem arises from the low compensation rates, (fees range from $30 to $54/hr), and the Court's budget for indigent representation. The fee schedule has been in effect since the mid 1980's. Newer studies suggest these rates are approximately 1/3 what they should be and rates of $90 to $120/hr have been lobbied for.

Citing the petitioners right to counsel, the justices ordered new rules be put in place with weekly oversight and ordered that "on a showing that no counsel is available to represent a particular indigent defendant despite good faith efforts, such a defendant may not be held more than seven days and the criminal case against such a defendant may not continue beyond forty-five days".

This is a significant victory, not only for the accused defendants but for Masachusetts' attorneys as it is sure to add fuel to the fight for higher fees for public defenders.


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