Recently, the New York Times Sunday Review (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/sunday-review/need-blind-justice.html?smid=pl-share) reported on a pilot project being conducted in Comal County, Texas.
The project involves providing indigent criminal defendants with vouchers to go out into the legal community and hire lawyers of their choice (the county calls the program “client choice” but others are using the more colorful and probably appropriate name, “Gideon vouchers” after the landmark Supreme Court opinion, Gideon v. Wainwright, which ruled that poor criminal defendants were entitled to effective legal representation paid through the use of public funds).
This new approach to providing legal assistance to indigent criminal defendants, particularly in situations where the Public Defender’s Office has conflicts, could be very effective. In our view, a voucher program should not be used to replace public defenders. The Public Defender’s Office does much more than just provide representation to indigent defendants; it also fulfills a vital role in maintaining balance in our criminal courts. Without them, the only organized, structured organization appearing before judges in criminal cases would be prosecutors. Public defenders as the only other organized, structured organization regularly appearing in our criminal courts, provide some balance to the system. They also do excellent legal work, often in difficult and unpopular cases. But from time to time, the Public Defender’s Office will have conflict situations where other counsel needs to be appointed; a voucher system could provide a viable, cost effective alternative to the current regional counsel used in Florida’s state court system or the current CJA appointment process used in federal court.
This is an idea worth monitoring. We salute Comal County, Texas for the vision and leadership to try something new that may improve the delivery of legal services to some of our most vulnerable citizens.
If you have been arrested or are under criminal investigation in the Tampa/Central Florida area please contact us toll free at (800) 608-7002 or visit us at: www.SuarezLawFirm.com