Lawsuit challenges Colorado public defender law

CatWhisperer's picture
Quoted from Coloradoan Story: Lawsuit challenges Colorado public defender law Author: The Associated Press ♦ January 31, 2011 Quotation: DENVER (AP) — Facing a prosecutor without an attorney, truck driver Ryan Weaver said he pleaded guilty to a crime he didn't commit because he thought he didn't have much of a choice."Basically, the way they put it, if you didn't take it (a plea deal,) you could end up staying in jail," said Weaver, who spent one night in jail for a misdemeanor conviction — later thrown out — stemming from a domestic dispute. The law in Colorado states that a misdemeanor defendant who can't afford an attorney may apply for a public defender only after meeting with a prosecutor. Because of the law, legal observers say the wait for a defender in Colorado's crowded judicial system can take days, if not weeks, costing the accused jobs, their homes or a criminal record if they take a plea to get out of jail. Other jurisdictions across the country have similar methods of appointing public defense attorneys, but Colorado is the only state that has it written into law. The 1992 law was a cost-cutting measure to deal with a spike in drug and domestic violence cases. But the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar and Colorado Criminal Justice Reform are challenging it in federal court, arguing it frequently denies legal counsel for the poor. "What we really care about is there are indigent folks who are basically extorted," said Dan Schoen, the defense bar's executive director. "They're in lockup. They have to get their lives back. They can't wait two weeks. You have a DA who says, 'Here's the plea, you have five minutes to accept it.' It really places a lot of pressure on people." Defense attorneys say many who accept pleas without counsel aren't aware of consequences a misdemeanor conviction can sometimes bring: Deportation for non-citizens, the inability to own a gun, obtain a student loan or get into the military. The Colorado Attorney General's Office, which is defending the law, declined to comment on the December lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver. But in a 2009 opinion, state attorneys said the law allowed prosecutors to "dispose of small, easy cases quickly." Former Deputy Attorney General Thomas Raynes said nothing compels defendants to speak with prosecutors and that prosecutors are required to tell defendants they have a right to an attorney. Scrutiny of Colorado's law followed a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held in a Texas case that defendants have a right to an attorney at their first court hearing. A Texas man wrongly accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm spent three weeks in jail before a court appointed attorney was able to get the case dismissed. The man's criminal record erroneously contained a felony conviction. Raynes insisted the Supreme Court ruling doesn't dictate that a public defender be in court the moment somebody asks for one. "Our first priority is to protect the rights of the defendant, but it's got to be a workable system," said Raynes, who is now executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys' Council. Doug Wilson, Colorado's public defender, estimated it would cost up to $6 million to add 55 attorneys and support staff to handle an estimated 15,000 to 17,000 additional cases to comply with the Supreme Court decision. Lawmakers rejected his recommendations in 2009, citing the cost. Wilson's 393 attorneys handled 95,000 felony and misdemeanor cases last year. Ryan Weaver, the Colorado trucker, said his plea offer was made as he sat in Weld County court next to other defendants in 2008. "I didn't want to go back to jail," he said. But after his plea, he hired Greeley attorney Maria Liu, who argued that a police officer overstated the facts of the domestic dispute. A judge agreed to let Weaver withdraw the plea and ultimately dismissed the charge, clearing his record. ---------- CENSORED COMMENT ---------- CatWhisperer wrote: No wonder the public has such poor respect for attorneys: YOUR'RE SCAMMING US! A misdemeanor conviction DOES NOT BRING: Deportation for non-citizens, the inability to own a gun, obtain a student loan or get into the military. None of that occurs for a misdemeanor conviction. Because it is a misdemeanor, folks. If it does, then the system is violating our civil and Constitutional rights. Deportation, loss of your right to bear arms, your right to vote, etc.,  happens if you get convicted of a felony. The bloody lawyers don't even know the law... No wonder the system is screwed. 1/31/2011 6:25:47 AM

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Gregg Leverett's picture

Cat if the misdemeanor  is

Cat if the misdemeanor  is domestic Violence related you lose your gun rights. This can even happen when you have an lawyer representing you. You can even ask the judge in your case if will not lose your gun rights only to be told you will not. Then complete the terms of your probation and find out your lawyer and the judge lied to you. The justice system is so broken that courts harm society more than help.
CatWhisperer's picture

Were in CRS does it say that?

So where in the Colorado Revised Statutes does it say that, Gregg. That's something I'd like to read verbatim in statute since it relates to a constitutional right that you would not otherwise loose. I.e. when you are convicted of a felony, you loose your right to vote (and your right to own a gun), at minimum, during the time that you are under the jurisdiction of the court. The same does not occur for a misdemeanor. But then I'm not a lawyer...wink

CatWhisperer
Fort Collins, CO, USA

Gregg Leverett's picture

It is federal

It is a federal statute, and my attorney Andy Taylor and Judge Ronald Schultz, both told me that I would not lose my gun rights so I agreed to the plea deal. Once I completed my probation, you have lost your gun rights. That is why Andy Taylor should never be recommended to the bench and Ronald Schultz should not be retained as a judge. I asked at the time of the plea if I would be able to go hunting after completing probation and was assured by both Taylor and Schultz that I would. This was not true. They both do not understand the law. For anyone in need of an attorney they should avoid Andy Taylor like the plague.

gun rights

I know you lose your ability to have a concealed permit, and I think the right to have a gun if there is domestic violence charges. This is also true if there is a restraining order. You lose during the time of a restraining order. You only lose your right to vote if you are in prison/jail or parole, after that you can vote. You can still vote if you have a felony and only got probation.

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