MI Supreme Court dismisses challenge to indigent defense system


A divided Michigan Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the state's system for providing lawyers for criminal defendants who can't afford to pay an attorney.

The court split along party lines. The four Republican justices said it's up to the governor and the Legislature - not the courts -- to design and fund a system for ensuring legal representation for poor defendants. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the challenge, focusing on three counties.

Michael Steinberg is the Michigan ACLU's legal director.

"Innocent men and women are ending up in jail and the perpetrators are left in the streets to commit more crimes," he says.

National studies rank Michigan's indigent defense system among the worst in the country. The court's three Democrats dissented, and said they would have allowed the case to go forward. They said the Republican majority focused on the prospect of an expensive solution before the key question was settled - and that is whether poor defendants are being denied their constitutional rights.