Twenty-five New York counties will split $12 million in the first state grants earmarked to provide criminal defendants with legal representation at their initial court appearances, reported the New York Law Journal.
The grant has the potential to save money by reducing needless pretrial detention.
The grants will fund counsel-at-first-appearance programs over the next three years in the 25 counties that were awarded the funding after submitting bids to the Office of Indigent Legal Services. All 25 counties that applied for grants received some funding. Thirty-two other eligible counties did not submit bids.
New York City was not eligible. The city's indigent defense system already provides counsel to criminal defendants at their initial court appearances.
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman promised to create the grant program in his 2011 Law Day speech as a way of moving the state to closer conformity with the U.S. Supreme Court's mandate in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), that all criminal defendants receive legal representation regardless of their ability to pay.
James Milstein, Albany County public defender, said it is "very, very important" for a lawyer to be present at arraignment, when critical decisions are made, such as setting bail.
He said that unless lawyers are there to stop them, defendants often make statements in court "they think is helpful to them, but which, in fact, is detrimental."
For instance, Milstein said a defendant may tell a judge after an alleged domestic disturbance, "I didn't hit my wife, we were just arguing," which could represent an unintentional admission to violation of an order of protection.
"Certainly there can be some great advantages to a client having an attorney by his or her side in an unfamiliar surrounding and in an emotional environment in which the attorney can provide competent professional advice," Milstein said.
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