NY Gov. Cuomo vetoes bill requiring state to pay for indigent defense

NY Gov. Cuomo vetoes bill requiring state to pay for indigent defense

[JURIST] NY Governor Andrew Cuomo [official website] on Saturday vetoed a bill [Politico report] that would require the state to pay for indigent representation when counties were unable. The bill was passed six months ago with bipartisan support, though the lawsuit giving rise to the issue was settled approximately 2 years ago [NYCLU press release]. After weeks of negotiation [Politico news report] Cuomo vetoed the bill, with a spokesperson stating [NY Daily News report] that “[u]nfortunately, an agreement was unable to be reached and the Legislature was committed to a flawed bill that placed an $800 million burden on taxpayers — $600 million of which was unnecessary — with no way to pay for it and no plan to make one.” Cuomo assured that it would be “revisited” in the upcoming legislation cycle.

This is not the first time that the rights of indigent defendants have suffered due to costs. Last January, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Louisiana filed a class action lawsuit [JURIST report] against the New Orleans Public Defenders Office and the Louisiana Public Defender Board due to the lack of available public defenders for individuals with no access to an attorney. The ACLU claimed that as a result of the lack of state funding for public defenders, individuals are forced to wait months in jail without counsel or accept bail and plea negotiations which can have irreparable effects on their case. This was not the first time the New Orleans County Public Defender’s Office had struggled to adequately provide enough enough public defenders, who represent close to 80 percent of criminal defendants in New Orleans. Due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 31 of the office’s 39 public defenders were laid off and the annual budget was dropped from $2.5 million to $500,000. The financing system was accused of being unconstitutional because it relied heavily on surcharges from traffic tickets, which were abandoned since Hurricane Katrina, and forced poor people to pay for the system. Many cases involving public defenders were suspended [JURIST report] and a petition was granted to free a prisoner facing serious charges because the suspect lacked counsel. Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti, Jr. launched an investigation [JURIST report] in 2006 into the dire finances of the state’s indigent defense system.