‘4 out of 5 inmates agree: attorneys are ineffective’

17 July 2014

T & F,

F writes and T writes; I am grateful for your concern and sacrificial effort.

I am the ‘jailhouse attorney’ for inmates who suffer on account of poor legal representation from court-appointed public defenders. My survey says more than 4 out of 5 inmates have complained bitterly over the effectiveness of their counsel. The most common complaints and their questions:

1.) When will I see my attorney? In many cases, the first appearance provides the opportunity for the accused to request an attorney. Lawrence Campbell, who is chief public defender, appoints these attorneys. Some have no experience and are more frightened at court than the inmate.

The inmate usually does not meet his or her attorney until 2nd appearance at court, which is often months later. Requests for consultation with your court-appointed attorney are routinely ignored by your public defender, even if your family calls. Obtaining evidence from discovery takes months.

2.) Does my attorney work for the prosecutor? To most inmates, it certainly appears like it. Most of the public defenders are overly anxious to cooperate with the assistant district attorneys. The Durham court district boasts the highest conviction rate in NC. This results from plea bargains that are drafted by the assistant D.A. and ‘sold’ by the public defender. I have seen and witnessed the public defender negotiating billable hours in court after these ‘resolution.’ The public defenders receive $50/hour, which is a pitiful fraction of what a real criminal defense attorney would be paid. The adage is true: You get what you pay for, which is nothing.

3.) Is my attorney competent? Sadly, the answer to this question is often ‘No.’ I have talked with public defenders who didn’t know what a ‘terry stop’ was, and who obviously weren’t familiar with all the provisions of the Sentence Structuring Act. The range of experience varies widely among these attorneys. I have assisted many inmates in filing complaints to the NC Bar Association.

I have achieved moderate success by providing forms to inmates to file with the Clerk of Courts. These forms enable the accused to make motions. A simple motion to dismiss charges with an accompanying affidavit has resulted in successful outcomes at court for over a dozen inmates. I have provided the forms to the library. I am careful not to provide legal services to anyone, as I am not a licensed attorney.

My charges will be dismissed when I obtain a trial date. I am looking for ways I can benefit Inside-Outside Alliance.

V. S.

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