Court affirms power to decide whether indigent criminal defendants are denied effective counsel
In Duncan v. State of Michigan, the Court of Appeals has upheld three Circuit Judges who ruled that indigent defendants in Genessee, Berrien and Muskegon Counties were entitled to a hearing on their claim that they were systematically denied their constitutional rights. The lower courts had found that the County systems created to afford the State and federal Constitutional right to counsel to these criminal defendants were not sufficient, due to inadequate funding by the State.
The higher court ruled that the State is not protected by governmental immunity and that the trial court, not the Court of Claims, has the right to fashion a remedy in the form of an order providing injunctive and declaratory relief. The Court expressly affirmed the power of the judiciary to intervene when the executive and legislative branches fail to fulfill their duty to satisfy constitutional obligations. Since the governor and legislature have [allegedly] repeatedly refused to adequately fund a system of representation for indigent persons accused of crime, the judiciary is obligated to intervene and protect this constitutional right--if the claims are proven. "If not the courts, then whom?"
The opinion of the court takes pains to recite the detailed deficiencies alleged by the plaintiffs and notes that the claims are not being endorsed: the Court has merely recognized that it has the power to hear the plaintiffs' complaints, and if proven, to remedy them.