How We Do It
Our initial involvement with a case usually occurs at the time of arraignment, which means that the accused person is brought before a judge or magistrate and told what crime they have been charged with and the maximum possible penalty for the offense. The judge also advises everyone of the right to have an attorney appointed by the Court for those persons who are unable to hire their own attorney. Typically, Public Defender Lloyd E. Powell is appointed if a defendant is found to be eligible for the services of a court appointed attorney.
When an individual is charged with a misdemeanor (an offense with a maximum penalty of one year or less), the Court notifies the accused by mail of the time and date that the person must report to the court for arraignment. An appearance bond is set at that time. There may be no requirement for a cash bond, but the court often sets a cash bond and any conditions of bond deemed appropriate. Failure to appear usually results in an arrest warrant.
The persons who are charged with a felony offense are not generally notified that they have been charged with a crime. An arrest warrant is usually issued when the Prosecutor authorizes a criminal charge and the complaint is signed by a judge. Any accused person with an arrest warrant can voluntarily turn themselves in to the Court for arraignment, or they may be arrested by the police and jailed until they have been arraigned and a bond is set by the judge. Arraignments at the County Jail are done by video camera. The accused are kept in a secure area and the Judge is in a courtroom. Observers are not allowed in the courtroom, but are usually allowed to watch the video proceedings in the Jail lobby. Information is provided to defendants at the time of arraignment on how to contact our office to consult further with an attorney. Every incarcerated client is given no cost phone access to the Office.
Juveniles accused of delinquency matters are typically notified by mail about when they and a parent must appear at the Family Court for an initial hearing in a juvenile matter. Juveniles may be detained on a 'pick up order' which is the equivalent of an arrest warrant. There is weekend representation for abuse/neglect proceedings and juvenile delinquency matters that require a hearing within twenty four hours.
The Public Defender office can be appointed at any point during court proceedings, up to and including trial and sentencing. We may also be appointed as standby legal counsel for defendants who choose to represent themselves. In addition, we are appointed to represent the vast majority of defendants charged with violation of probation cases. Upon conviction, these cases can result in a new sentence for the defendant up to the maximum of the original charges.
An Assistant Public Defender is made available on a daily basis for arraignment on violation of probation cases, civil appointments for contempt of court, criminal contempt, personal protection order violations, child support, paternity and extradition cases. In addition, an Assistant Public Defender is assigned "Attorney of the Week" duties on a weekly basis to handle emergencies that may arise requiring the presence of an attorney, such as photographic or in person lineups. The "Attorney of the Week" also serves a community service function by answering general legal questions from the public. Defendants who are not represented by counsel are often referred to this office by the Court for legal information to be appointed as standby legal counsel for defendants who choose to represent themselves. In addition, we are appointed to represent the vast majority of defendants charged with violation of probation cases. Upon conviction, these cases can result in a new sentence for the defendant up to the maximum of the original charges.
Attorneys are assigned cases by division as identified in the Public Defender organizational chart. Public defenders are also assigned backup duties to assist other staff attorneys with preliminary examinations, extraditions, civil or criminal contempt proceedings, motions, hearings, pre-trials, trials and sentencings.
The overwhelming majority of defendants in criminal cases nationwide and locally are assessed by courts to be indigent or partially indigent resulting in a legally mandated requirement that public defenders be appointed to provide them with effective assistance of counsel. Thus, locally, our 42 year old Washtenaw County Office of Public Defender (http://publicdefender.ewashtenaw.org) is appointed as first choice to handle the overwhelming majority of such cases for both adults and juveniles, with either our County Prosecutor, State Attorney General, city, village or township attorneys always being metaphorically “on the other side of the table” as all of the major components of our local criminal justice system (i.e. the police, prosecution, defense, courts and corrections) seek, both collaboratively and adversatively, to competently and cost effectively achieve justice.
The advent of electronic computerized technology and the availability of many highly qualified volunteers, has enabled public defense trial attorneys to become progressively more self reliant and self sufficient in handling increasing workloads with quality and cost effectiveness. Thus, it is in the context of cost effectiveness and enhancement of quality of service, with acceptance by our Public Defenders Association (Union), and unrelated to AFSCME, that 2/3 of our staff is comprised of select volunteers who serve us as student lawyers, investigators, skilled researchers and invaluable teachers and trainers.
Our volunteers expand the workload capacity of our streamlined core of devoted FTE public defenders who, for all adult clients, have not grown in size during the past 32 years - notwithstanding an 8 fold increase in workload. Approximately 10% of them who are in greatest need and/or who are specially qualified in education and experience to aid in teaching and training each new group of student interns arriving every semester are rewarded with some greatly leveraged compensation as part time employees. This is a teaching and learning experience that many students take for course credit through their law school or other institution of higher learning. Under the supervision of an attorney member of a Public Defender operational team, a student lawyer/investigator serves as an extension of the attorney by providing whatever assistance that is needed commensurate with their overall educational and experience qualifications.
CURRENT COMPOSITION OF INTEGRATED STAFF OF VOLUNTEERS & FULL TIME EMPLOYEES (FTE)
Our department is comprised of dedicated career attorneys who operate as well trained, experienced and coordinated teams with full parity in salaries with prosecutors and, most importantly, one that meets all of the Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System established or adopted by the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan, the Michigan Campaign for Justice and the Michigan Public Defense Task Force. At any given time, the Office is further augmented with many select volunteer attorneys plus an average of 60-80 volunteer select student lawyers and investigators from law schools, colleges and universities throughout the country.
Student lawyer/investigators typically spend a semester with us, although some may stay up to a year or more. A small percentage of investigators work year round and are compensated somewhat for their services. These investigators take a lead role in training new student lawyer/investigators and in coordinating operational team responsibilities for the four Circuit Court teams, three district court teams, three juvenile court teams, the preliminary exam team, and the additional teams as referred to on the attached chart.
SPECIFIC ROLE OF VOLUNTEERS AS STUDENT LAWYER/ INVESTIGATORS
Student Lawyers/Investigators are volunteers who are licensed attorneys or college students attending higher institutions of learning in pursuit of undergraduate, graduate and/or law degree.
They are all assigned to one or more of 15 Operational Teams that are always headed by a veteran FTE public defense attorney as depicted on the attached “Organization Chart” or as shown on the reverse side of this handout. As members of these Operational Teams, they all serve as extensions of our FTE attorneys in assisting them when and wherever possible to achieve, refine and maintain complete self-sufficiency and self-reliance in performing all tasks that relate to a discharge of their duties to provide top quality public defense in the most cost effective way feasible, to the maximum capacity and qualification of each particular volunteer intern.
These multi tasks that our self-sufficient and self-reliant FTE Attorneys, as Assistant Public Defenders, must perform include, but are not limited to, handling all criminal, juvenile and special civil law appointments that provide a wide array of services related to probation violations, line-ups, personal protection orders, extraditions, Friend of the Court matters, bond reduction hearings, diversions, response to legal questions from the public, plus a wide array of investigativeresearch. Our Attorneys must make use of Information Technology to enhance quality and cost effectiveness as to the recordation of computer data entry and coding necessary to open and close legal case files, track the ongoing legal court process, utilize the specialized Public Defender system and Court data entry system, Enact, document preparations, filings, conflict of interest checks for witnesses, interviews of clients and witnesses, examination of police reports, visits to crime scenes to gather available facts, provide counseling to clients in terms of a realistic evaluation of their cases, arrangement for alternative case dispositions, alcohol and drug abuse therapy, educational opportunities, resolution of family problems, in court and out of court support services, effective guardian-at- litem representations for Neglected and Abused juveniles and the effective conduct of bench and jury trials with follow-up sentencing representations as needed.
Lloyd E. Powell
Washtenaw County Public Defender