Decision extends impact of litigation to an annual 50,000 plus Idahoans and their families, statewide.
BOISE—Idaho’s Fourth Judicial District Court ruled yesterday that an ACLU lawsuit challenging the State’s failure to adequately fund and support Idaho’s defective public defense system can go forth as a class action. The ruling is a landmark victory for Idaho plaintiffs and plaintiffs around the country. The ruling ensures that the impact of the lawsuit will extend beyond the four named plaintiffs and affect tens of thousands of Idahoans and their families who are unable to afford a criminal or juvenile defense lawyer every year. Under the court’s ruling anyone in Idaho with a pending charge against them and who cannot afford an attorney is now a part of the class action.
“This is a tremendous decision in protecting the Sixth Amendment right to adequate legal representation for all Idahoans,” said ACLU of Idaho Executive Director Leo Morales. “This decision is about ensuring even the most vulnerable among us have adequate legal representation and that public defenders have the time and resources they need to defend their clients against the colossal resources government can use to lock up Idahoans, break up their families, and take away their liberty.”
The lawsuit was filed in 2015 by the ACLU, ACLU of Idaho, and the global law firm Hogan Lovells, on behalf of the thousands of Idahoans appointed public defenders, but whose appointed attorneys are denied the resources necessary to prepare their cases, resulting in unnecessary jail time, inadequate or nonexistent investigation, and coerced plea bargains. The State of Idaho strenuously opposed class action status for this case, arguing that the lawsuit should be limited to the four individuals who brought the case. Ada County District Judge Samuel Hoagland rejected the State’s arguments, paving the way for future rulings about the deficiencies in the statewide system as a whole.
The court wrote, “This case will examine the State and the Public Defense Commission’s policies and practices concerning public defender services in the State of Idaho,” and decide “whether, by abdicating its responsibility to adequately fund, supervise, and administer indigent defense services to the counties, the State has failed to ensure that indigent defendants are provided with effective legal representation, all in violation of the United States and Idaho constitutions.”
The ruling follows the ACLU’s April 2017 victory in the case at the Idaho Supreme Court, which ruled that the plaintiffs had raised “systematic inadequacies” in Idaho’s public defense system, and that their allegations “illustrate violations of constitutional and statutory requirements.”
“Today’s class certification is a clear indication that the Idaho Courts recognize the dire state of indigent defense in Idaho,” said ACLU of Idaho Policy Director Kathy Griesmyer. “Despite years of legislative hearings, legislation and rule making, our clients have yet to see any substantial improvement in the representation afforded to them under the Sixth amendment of the United States Constitution. We hope that law makers recognize that today’s ruling signals that their work is not done that they must make a commitment to fully funding public defense.”
“The consequences of Idaho’s paltry public defense system are devastating: people languish in jail unnecessarily while their jobs disappear and their families suffer. They plead guilty to offenses they didn’t commit, just to get out of jail,” said Jason Williamson, senior staff attorney with the ACLU. “With today’s ruling, we can continue to push the state to uphold its obligations to its people and to fairness.”