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Utah: Lawsuit over public defense system should be dismissed (KSL, 8/9/16)

By Admin @ Aug 31, 2016

Utah: Lawsuit over public defense system should be dismissed

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A lawsuit alleging that Utah's public defender system is unconstitutional should be dismissed because the six inmates suing over an inadequate defense haven't been convicted or sentenced, according to the state attorney general's office.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes's office filed court documents Friday asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

If the inmates haven't been convicted or sentenced yet, they can't claim their legal representation was ineffective, the attorney general's office said.

Reye's office is responding to a lawsuit filed by American Civil Liberties Union in June on behalf of the six inmates.

The ACLU contends that Utah's public defender system is underfunded and overworked, leaving low-income people who are accused of crimes without their full right to a defense in court.

The attorney general's office said it shouldn't be the target of the lawsuit because it doesn't have the power to change the system — that's something state lawmakers and the counties would control.

A judge has not yet ruled on the request to dismiss the lawsuit.

The six inmates face charges such as theft and drug crimes. They are behind bars in in Cache, Tooele and Carbon counties and have had little interaction with their assigned public defenders, according to the ACLU.

John Mejia, the legal director of the ACLU of Utah, said Monday that the organization stands by its arguments and opposes any effort to dismiss the case.

Utah and Pennsylvania are the only states where local governments — not the state — fund all indigent defense services, without statewide oversight or money.

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