A public defender in Ohio was held in contempt and jailed on Thursday for asserting Gideon‘s mandate. After being appointed on Wednesday to represent Jordan Scott, the public defender Brian Jones told the presiding judge that he could not start trial on Thursday because, well, he’d had less than 24 hours to prepare for trial.
Jones correctly stated that he could not possibly prepare for trial and present an adequate defense in 24 hours. The public defender’s office has a written policy that it will not try cases in which it has been appointed 24 hours prior to trial.
Portage County Municipal Court Judge John Plough ordered a Portage County Sheriff’s deputy to remove Jones from his courtroom in front of his client, spectators and courthouse employees.
When Jones brought up the existence of that policy in court Thursday, Plough told Jones it wasn’t the time for “speeches” and asked if Jones wanted to make an opening statement. As Jones continued to explain the situation, saying he had a “pre-trial matter” to bring up, Plough interrupted him.
“What pre-trial matter? Trial is starting right now,” Plough said, refusing to hear Jones’ arguments about the matter and again asking him if he was prepared to move forward.
As Scott notes, why is it so difficult for some people to understand what Gideon means? The right to counsel means right to effective assistance of counsel and no counsel, no matter how good he or she is, can provide effective assistance at trial with 24 hours notice.
Scott is also rightly concerned about this 24-hour policy of the public defender’s office. Does it mean that they will try cases on 48 hours’ notice? If so, that might just be worse than this Judge. No public defender’s office should be okay with trying cases within 48 hours. Gideon is hurt by that as much as it is by judicial actions such as this.
The NACDL issued a press release:
It is a fundamental right of every person accused to be represented in a criminal trial by a competent counsel and that requires that counsel conduct an investigation, interview witnesses and understand the case. The framers of the Constitution understood this when they guaranteed to us in the Bill of Rights the right “to have the assistance of counsel” when accused of a crime. Nearly fifty years ago, in Gideon v Wainwright, the Supreme Court explained that the assistance of counsel is “one of the safeguards of the Sixth Amendment deemed necessary to insure fundamental human rights of life and liberty… And that without it, “though he be not guilty, [an accused] faces the danger of conviction because he does not know how to establish his innocence.”
We deserve and are entitled to better than an unreliable criminal justice system. Public defenders must be given the time and resources to do their jobs.
“The public defender’s office is not going to impede justice in Portage County,” the judge said.
No, they’re not, judge. But you’re doing a mighty fine job of it yourself.