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Hearings on public defense to begin

By Rick Pluta, Michigan Public Radio Network

LANSING, MI – A state House subcommittee will begin work today on a plan to ensure that criminal defendants who can't pay for an attorney are still well-represented in court. A report released a year ago says Michigan has one of the worst public defender systems in the nation.

Laura Sager is with the Michigan Campaign for Justice. She says the public is losing confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system, and the Legislature needs to act.

Sager says one thing that needs to be fixed is errors in trials that result in expensive appeals, and sending the wrong people to prison. Those kinds of mistakes led the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the state.

Sager says a judge may order taxpayers to foot the bill for an expensive solution if the Legislature does not act soon.

The chairman of the subcommittee says one solution might be to create an independent agency of lawyers to handle indigent defense work. The big question is, how to pay for the system as the state faces a budget crisis.

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