SALT LAKE CITY June 21, 2016 – In a statement today, the Office of the Attorney General responded to a complaint announced by the ACLU of Utah in conjunction with the law firm of Holland & Hart, LLP. The complaint alleges the State of Utah has failed to meet its obligation under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to provide defense for defendants who cannot afford a lawyer.
“The Sixth Amendment right to counsel for all persons, particularly those who cannot afford a lawyer, is a fundamental right held by all Americans and is crucial to ensuring justice in our legal system,” said Parker Douglas, Chief Federal Deputy and General Counsel of the Office of the Attorney General. “We are reviewing the complaint and will respond as appropriate.”
“The timing of this lawsuit is particularly unfortunate,” said Douglas. “Over the last year, the Judicial Committee, of which I am a member, has worked to assure that Utah appropriately responds to the needs of the indigent accused. The Committee’s work led to the 2016 passage of S.B. 155, sponsored by Senator Todd Weiler and Representative Dan McCay. After going into effect on May 10, the bill created a commission to ensure proper indigent defense and ways to fund those services. The bill was the result of an extraordinary effort by the Utah Judiciary, the Utah Legislature, members of the county attorneys, and many other state officials, as well as leaders of state and county criminal defense groups. To ask a judge to review these measures now, before any opportunity to see the results of that effort, is premature, and will require a single judge to review the collective efforts of the many interested stakeholders who have spent thousands of hours addressing the same issues.
“On a personal note: I spent seven years of my career and life defending those who could not afford an attorney. I am both cognizant of and sympathetic to the concerns that brought about this lawsuit. However, I think we should see if Utah’s recent efforts will alleviate the strains on the indigent defense system before embarking on costly and potentially counter-productive litigation.”
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