Federal defenders, who have already faced criticism from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and a federal judge over their tactics, are now being asked to explain themselves to the U.S. Supreme Court, reported The Legal Intelligencer.
In refusing to review the death sentence of Michael Ballard, who pleaded guilty in 2011 to killing four people, including his ex-girlfriend, in Northampton County, the court took note of a letter from Ballard complaining about the federal defenders' attempts to get involved in his case.
According to the docket, the court has ordered Marc Bookman, the director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, to respond to Ballard's June 2 letter within 40 days.
In his letter, Ballard said he "never authorized anyone" to file anything on his behalf and that he's not appealing his sentence "any further than it has been."
"It is my most ardent plea that asks now of you that the appeal filed in my behest be rejected summarily," Ballard wrote. "The reasons being: the 'federal defender's' filing have acted without my authorization; without my knowledge even. They are attempting to secure themselves as 'attorney's of record' so as to circumvent having to obtain my authorization.
"And lastly, but most importantly, they are acting against my own wishes to waive my appeals."
Bookman declined comment. Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli was not available at press time. However, he told the Easton Express-Times he sent a copy of Ballard's letter to the court to let the justices know of Ballard's opposition.
"He (Bookman) has some explaining to do to the Supreme Court," Morganelli told The Express-Times.
In response to similar criticisms made in another article in The Legal, Bookman wrote a letter to the editor. In the letter, Bookman rejected the idea the defenders were gaming the system.
"The implication is that, but for the delaying tactics of the defense attorneys, there would have been regular executions in Pennsylvania, rather than the three individuals who wanted to be executed in the late 1990s," Bookman wrote. "This does not explain the more than 100 reversals of death sentences, reversals based on constitutional errors rather than delay. In short, this 'gaming' is nothing more than outstanding lawyering.
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Since 1996, Florida added more than 20 new categories of financial obligations for criminal defendants and, at the same time, eliminated most exemptions for those who cannot pay. The process of cranking up fees to pay for courts became known as “cash register justice.”
In fact, some states apply "poverty penalties," such as late fees, payment plan fees and interest, when people are unable to pay all their debts in a lump sum, reported CBS News Moneywatch.
Alabama charges a 30 percent collection fee, for instance, while Florida allows private debt collectors to add a 40 percent surcharge on the original debt. In North Carolina people are charged for using a public defender, so indigent defendants who cannot afford an attorney are forced to face jail time without counsel.
According to a 2013 report prepared by the ACLU, The Outskirts of Hope, the inability to pay a fine in Ohio is “the beginning of a protracted process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants and even jail time.”
In some Ohio counties offenders are being jailed because they are too poor to pay fines. That is a violation of federal and state law and the perpetuation of “debtors’ prison.”
All of this, in spite of a 30-year-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling that courts cannot properly revoke a defendant's probation for failure to pay a fine and make restitution, absent evidence that the defendant was willfully refusing to pay.
Like Eileen DeNino, men and women, across the country are being sent to jail simply because they don’t have money. The ever-increasing court fees and costs are not about deterrence, retribution or rehabilitation -- they’re about creating revenue. America has created the “punishment tax” -- and jail cells are routinely being used to collect it.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His new book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words and Executions of 46 Persons in the United States is now available from McFarland & Company publishers.
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