New Appointments Process In Fed Court

Here’s the story:

Alabama’s largest federal court district is proposing a new way of appointing lawyers for indigent defendants to improve the help they receive in court.

The plan calls for 75 lawyers to be selected by court officials through an application process to serve as attorneys for defendants facing criminal action in the Northern District of Alabama, which includes 31 counties.

The program begins July 1. Its goal is to make sure people who cannot afford to hire lawyers will receive the best possible representation in federal criminal cases, which are becoming increasingly complex, said John Lentine, a Birmingham defense lawyer who is helping lead the overhaul.

U.S. Magistrate T. Michael Putnam said about 90 percent of defendants in criminal cases filed in the district have court-appointed attorneys.

“Experience is going to be a larger issue now,” Lentine told The Birmingham News in a story Sunday. “The system works better when you have experienced lawyers.”

That 90 percent number surprised me. I would have guessed 60 percent.

Anyway, Lentine is one of the best defense attorneys in the state, and very passionate about indigent defense. That he is involved is a big check in favor of the new program.

And they are correct that experience is very important when handling federal cases. Because federal jurisdiction is limited by commerce clause requirements, most of the crimes involve some kind of wide-ranging organization or conspiracy. As a policy matter, the feds aren’t going to spend the United States’ money on problems that Alabama can handle; they usually reserve their resources for BIG CASES. Then there are the “voluntary” U.S. Sentencing Guidelines that are in effect a whole ‘nother trial attached to every criminal case. So the average federal court case is going to be a much moreĀ complicated matter than the average state case.

The plan, though, also makes it possible for new attorneys to enter the process:

The selected lawyers now will be divided into two tiers – one of seasoned lawyers with federal and state court trial experience and another with lawyers who are less experienced. Those lawyers will be mentored by the more skilled ones.

All in all this sounds like a good idea. Perhaps, if it works, JeffCo could consider something similar. As it is now, if you’ve got a bar card and a pulse, you can get appointed to a criminal case in Jefferson County.

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One Comment on “New Appointments Process In Fed Court”

  1. Old Prosecutor Says:

    Wonder when the State will adopt some standards. We are currently spending more on indigent defense each year than on prosecution but the level of representation remains terrible

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