NAACP Sues Georgia Court For Denying The Poor Adequate Legal Counsel

The Ben Hill and Crisp County, Georgia Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), allege that the indigent defense system of the Cordele Judicial Circuit Court, comprising of Ben Hill, Crisp, Dooly and Wilcox counties, systematically denies the right to counsel for indigent people accused of crimes. The counties are near the city of Albany in southern Georgia. The NAACP joins the case, originally filed in March 2003, by the Southern Center for Human Rights and numerous individual plaintiffs that challenges the Cordele Judicial Circuit's indigent defense system.

NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume said: "The time is ripe to assail roughshod tactics in local courtrooms across America. In an era when communities of color have become harvest for the prison industry rather than pools of future college students, we must challenge any deprivation of civil and constitutional rights that leads to the incarceration of racial minorities."

Mfume continued: "We are in an unfortunate time when African Americans are imprisoned eight times as often as whites. Latinos are imprisoned at rates two to three times as often as whites. Many of these individuals are the victims of under funded, overworked, court-appointed criminal defense lawyers who quickly negotiate plea bargains. The Cordele Judicial Circuit must put an end to assembly-line justice."

Between 1985 and 2000, state spending on corrections nationwide was nearly double that of higher education spending. In total, states increased spending on higher education 24 percent, compared with 166 percent on corrections.

Dennis Courtland Hayes, NAACP General Counsel, said: "Surely some of the money that is spent warehousing individuals who were denied their constitutional right to counsel within the Cordele Judicial Circuit would be better spent establishing a fully funded, staffed and effective public defender's office. Our challenge comes less than two years after the United States Supreme Court decided Alabama v. Shelton, and 40 years after its Gideon v. Wainright ruling that made clear poor people accused of crimes have a fundamental and constitutional right to counsel. Nevertheless, we see these decisions by the nation's highest court repeatedly violated in the Cordele Judicial Circuit."

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