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Lawsuit Says Oregon Fails to Provide Public Defenders

Oregon violates its constitutional requirement to provide attorneys to people charged with crimes who can't afford one, contends a lawsuit reported by Courthouse News Service. Four people charged with crimes sued the state, saying the judges in their cases told them they qualified for court-appointed attorneys but none was provided. About 500 people in Oregon are in the same situation, the lawsuit says. "That's an unacceptable situation to allow to continue," said Jesse Merrithew, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit. "The time directly after arrest is the most critical time in the representation of a client. It is the time where the client will either lose their job or keep their job, lose their family and their housing or keep their family and their housing. It’s a time when evidence is either going to be preserved or evidence going to be lost.”

The lawsuit says the state, its Governor, and the executive director of the state Office of Public Defense Services violate the Sixth Amendment and a similar provision in the Oregon Constitution that guarantee attorneys to anyone charged with a crime who can't afford them. "To keep charging people when they know that they will not be able to provide an attorney is a terrible violation of this essential right," said Benjamin Haile of the Oregon Justice Resource Center. "The solution involves making attorneys available, but it also involves prosecuting less." A report released in January found Oregon would need 1,296 additional full-time public defenders in order to represent all state defendants adequately at current case rates.


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