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New York State Must Reform Indigent Defense While Tackling Town And Village Courts, NYCLU Testifies

In testimony presented before the Judiciary Committee of the New York State Assembly today the New York Civil Liberties Union urged lawmakers to enact systematic reforms both to the Town and Village Court system and to the indigent defense system, which is charged with providing competent lawyers to the poor defendants on whom the small courts take the highest toll.

NYCLU Staff Attorney Corey Stoughton urged the Committee to address the problems of inadequate funding, lack of standards and oversight, and lack of training for justices in the Town and Village Courts – and to ensure that accused person have an accountable, competent, and well-trained attorney who has the time and resources to provide meaningful advice and counsel at every critical stage of the prosecutorial process.

“In numerous courts throughout the state, jail sentences and large fines are handed down by judges with poor understanding of criminal procedure and substantive law, often with undue influence from the local District Attorney, and no lawyer is there to stand up for the rights of the person charged,” said Corey Stoughton, NYCLU Staff Attorney, before the Committee. “Indigent defendants negotiate pleas with the prosecution while unrepresented or face the Byzantine procedures of trial without any legal guidance from a lawyer. … Comprehensive legislative change is necessary to bring both the Town and Village Courts and the indigent defense system in line with constitutional standards of justice.”

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