There’s no equal justice if your access to the courts depends on how much money you haveOverlooked in the commotion over the Supreme Court’s eminent domain decision last week was its ruling in Halbert v. Michigan which bolstered indigent defendants’ access to equal justice.
The court struck down a Michigan law which required indigent defendants -- and only indigent defendants -- to waive their right to an appellate attorney in order to enter a plea of not guilty or no contest.
Michigan is the only state with such a law. But 17 other states (not Florida) backed its case and presumably were primed to enact such a law if the Supremes said okay.
So why does a guy who pleaded guilty need to appeal? In Antonio Halbert’s case, the sentence he received wasn’t what he had agreed to. Mistakes were made on the scoresheet used to determine the length of his sentence. As a result, Halbert faced a longer prison term than he should have.
Disputes over sentences aren’t unusual. Michigan had a backlog of more than 4,000 cases before the appeals court. One-third were from defendants who had pleaded guilty, and most were seeking reduced sentences.
For more information on how indigent defense is funded, check out Indefensible’s June 22 post.