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Friday, September 8th, a lawsuit was announced by the Washington State Association of Counties against the state of Washington over public defenders.

The lawsuit claims the state is not fulfilling its responsibilities

The WSAC, joined by Pacific, Lincoln, and Yakima Counties, says the indigent defense system in WA state is suffering because of inconsistent support.

Indigent defense refers to accused suspects who need legal counsel but cannot afford an attorney, so a public defender.

The lawsuit says the state has a "constitutional" responsibility to ensure that all persons who cannot afford an attorney are provided with one.  When a suspect is read their Miranda Rights, the officer says 'If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you' or something to that effect.

Some of the other claims made in the suit include:

  • "Funding for the State’s indigent defense system is inconsistent, varying from county to county, resulting in inequities across the state.
  • Counties cannot individually fix what is supposed to be a uniform statewide system.
  • By relying so heavily on the counties’ existing revenue sources, the State has neglected to adequately fund its indigent defense system."

The lawsuit says for several decades the WSAC has tried to work with the state to 'fix' the system, but now suing is the only remaining realistic resort.

The WSAC also said:

"The provision of indigent defense is not optional. There is a constitutional right to court-appointed counsel for indigent defendants in criminal prosecutions that all states must provide."

By failing to do so, the suit says the state is in violation of  "Article I, Sections 3 and 221 of the Washington Constitution."

Created in 1906, the WSAC is a non-profit voluntary association for all 39 counties in WA state, whose members include county commissioners, council members, councilors, and country executives.

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