Monday, January 12, 2009
After he was charged with hitting his girlfriend in the face, career criminal Michael Brillon sat in jail without bail for nearly three years, going through six public defenders before being tried for assault.
The delays paid off -- for Brillon, anyway: A Vermont court threw out his conviction and freed him from prison last spring, saying his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial had been violated.
Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the case, trying to decide whether delays caused by public defenders can deprive a criminal defendant of that right. In particular: Whether governments can be blamed for such delays because they're the ones who assign and pay the lawyers for indigent defendants.
Forty states and 15 organizations -- state governments, county governments, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a victim's rights' group -- are backing the Vermont prosecutor's appeal of the ruling, worried that if it stands, criminal suspects will try to game the system and get the result Brillon did.
"You're greasing that slippery slope," said David Parkhurst, an attorney with the National Governors Association, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the prosecutor's appeal. "That's the big concern here."
Brillon, a 46-year-old construction worker whose criminal past includes convictions for sexual assault on a minor, felony obstruction of justice and cocaine possession, was charged with aggravated domestic assault over the 2001 incident with his girlfriend, who is the mother of his child.
Held without bail, his case inched along as lawyer after lawyer asked for postponements and eventually withdrew or were replaced at Brillon's request.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]