Monday, February 21, 2011

State President KMyles full testimony on HB2197 - Public Defenders

Chairman Colloton, Vice Chairman Kinzer, and members of the Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice,

My name is Kevin Myles and I am the President of the Kansas State Conference of the NAACP, representing more than 2,000 registered voters throughout the State of Kansas.

We are offering our qualified support to House Bill 2197. Our support is qualified because while we firmly support the intent of this bill to protect and safeguard the rights of criminal defendants, we do not believe the language is quite comprehensive enough to achieve this goal.

The language is section 1, parts A and B both speak to the rights of the Public Defender to withdraw from a case when they feel their caseload would preclude them from providing an adequate defense.

We wholeheartedly support any effort to ensure that all criminal defendants are afforded competent and adequate representation. We are therefore supportive of the language in Section 1 parts A and B in so far as it allows Defense Attorney’s who are unable to provide such a defense t o remove themselves so that other less burdened attorney’s may do so.

But while the bill clearly delineates the rights of public defenders, we believe it does not adequately speak to or protect the constitutionally guaranteed rights of defendants. We want to see the system address the issue of unmanageable caseloads. But we do NOT want to create a situation wherein defendants could find themselves unable to obtain representation because the caseloads in a given public defender’s office were too high.

The right to counsel is guaranteed to all citizens through the 6th amendment of the United States Constitution. But that right is diminished when Public Defenders are faced with large and unmanageable caseloads which prevent them from spending the necessary time it takes to provide an adequate defense. Allowing individual Defense Attorneys to remove themselves from a case solves only half of the problem. The larger and more pressing question is; How do we ensure that all defendants are allowed to exercise their right to counsel and to enjoy adequate representation when caseloads become excessive?

What we would ask of the Committee of Corrections and Juvenile Justice is that you amend this bill to strengthen the Public Defender and Indigent defense system by the provision of additional safeguards and resources.

We ask that you would amend this bill to provide guidelines for manageable caseloads, much as the American Bar Association did when it issued its guidelines that Attorneys should not handle more than 150 felony cases per year. We also ask that you stipulate that when caseloads are significantly higher than the guidelines you would set, that the State would allocate additional resources so as to ensure that all citizens were afforded the full measure of their rights under the constitution.

Respectfully,

Kevin Myles
President; Kansas State Conference of the NAACP
President; Wichita Branch NAACP

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