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Case goes radically wrong in absence of defense counsel

It is no overstatement to note that suspects facing challenges from the criminal justice system in California and nationally can easily be overwhelmed by the superior might and resources of law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and other actors within the system.

What can serve as an equalizing deterrent to that is strong representation from a proven attorney providing diligent representation against criminal charges. Indeed, having such advocacy is a legal right under the Constitution, and American courts have recognized for centuries citizens’ due-process rights and the notion of fundamental fairness in law.

That’s great on paper, but sometimes reality plays out in strange ways and grossly undercuts the application of criminal law maxims.

A recent case from Indiana points that out with a vengeance.

The facts are quickly told. A woman there violated the terms of her drug program, and a judge ordered her jailed for two days pending a judicial order regarding treatment. Her incarceration was ordered without any hearing or defense counsel on hand.

Unfortunately, the judge failed to act further, and that two-day incarceration stretched into several months. All told, the woman remained locked up for 154 days. She might still be incarcerated had a government attorney looking through back cases not noted the anomaly.

A hearing judge last month conceded “a big screw up” in the case and ordered the woman released.

Understandably, she is piqued. This time, and with counsel, she may file a lawsuit against the county in which she was locked up, unlawfully and forgotten.

The matter underscores the central role played by criminal defense attorneys in the criminal justice system and the compelling need for an accused party in any case to have access to legal counsel.

Source: News and Tribune, " 'A big screw up:' Woman sentenced to two days in Clark County jail serves five months," Gary Popp, Jan. 24, 2014

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