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A Statement By Kaye Commission Member Steven Zeidman

The following can be attributed to Steven Zeidman, professor at the City University of New York School of Law and a member of the Kaye Commission:

Approximately 16 months ago, the Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services concluded that New York State’s indigent defense “system” was in crisis. That finding came as no surprise to anyone even remotely familiar with the criminal court. Those facing charges in the criminal courts of this state are overwhelmingly and disproportionately people of color, and they are usually represented by lawyers with limited funds and enormous caseloads. Is it any surprise that guilty pleas rule the day? In fact, somewhere in the vicinity of two-thirds of all misdemeanor cases are “disposed of” at the accused’s very first court appearance. In these days of burgeoning collateral consequences, when arrests and pleas can result in deportation, eviction, loss of government benefits, mandatory DNA samples, etc., one would expect to see defense attorneys impelled to aggressively contest the legality of their clients’ arrests and whether the prosecution can prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

There is a crying need for statewide oversight, a permanent funding stream and the promulgation and enforcement of standards to ensure the effective assistance of counsel mandated by the Constitution. There is indeed a crisis in indigent defense in this state. Crises demand action. In the face of apparent legislative indifference and inaction, the NYCLU lawsuit is necessary, appropriate and laudable.


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