Supreme Court to allow public defense challenge to go forward


By Melissa Davlin and Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Public Television

The Idaho Supreme Court will allow a challenge on Idaho’s public defense system to go forward, partially rejecting the state’s argument that it isn’t the correct defendant in the case, and holding that the state is not immune from the lawsuit.

The court agreed that there are issues with the state’s public defense, saying “Appellants suffered ascertainable injuries by being actually and constructively denied counsel at critical stages of the prosecution, which they allege are the result of deficiencies in Idaho’s public defense system.”

The opinion, issued Friday morning, isn’t on the public defense system itself; Rather, it partially reverses a district court dismissal of the case. Friday’s opinion does allow the challenge to go forward, but without Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter as a defendant.

In arguments, the state’s attorney hadn’t claimed the public defense system was robust, but said the state wasn’t the right party to sue. The Supreme Court disagreed. “The state would create a substantial likelihood of remedying the injuries alleged because the state has the power, and indeed, the responsibility to ensure public defense is constitutionally adequate,” the opinion says.

“The (Public Defense Commission)’s failure to promulgate these rules illustrates the appellants’ injuries are fairly traceable to the PDC,” it adds.

The Supreme Court did agree with the state, however, that Otter wasn’t responsible for the defendants’ issues.

“Unlike the state, the casual chain linking appellant’s injuries to governor is too attenuated,” the opinion says. In other words, it was difficult to show a link between Otter and the plaintiffs.

“The right to counsel which appellants seek to vindicate is not entrusted to a particular branch of government, nor does a particular branch of government merely have discretion to enforce the right to counsel a fundamental right,” the opinion says.

We’ll have more on this on Idaho Reports. In the meantime, here’s the opinion and the summary.




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