Federal defenders say the shutdown hurts the poor incarcerated.
As the government shutdown stretches for more than a month with no end in sight, public defenders say their clients have been denied access to justice because of understaffing in federal prisons and courts.
New York assistant federal defender Jennifer Willis told The Appeal that she and her colleagues have been prevented from visiting clients in jail because of the shortage.
Willis has a client in custody at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center awaiting sentencing. Before that can happen, Willis needs to schedule a mandatory interview with his client and a probation officer, which will allow the officer to conduct an investigation into his client’s case.
But on the day of the scheduled interview in early January, he discovered that the prison was closed to legal visits. Willis and the probation officer rescheduled for the following week, but when she arrived at the jail, she said, there were signs on the doors saying the facility was still closed.
“To make sure the sentence goes through in time, the interview has to happen on time,” Willis said.
The Bureau of Prisons confirmed the closures, telling the Appeal that legal visits in Brooklyn and Manhattan are “temporarily suspended intermittently.” Wardens, the agency explained, “all have options to address any institution-specific concerns “during the closure, including limiting or canceling visitation.
She has not yet rescheduled the visit because it is unclear when the facility will reopen. David Patton, executive director of Federal Defenders of New York, said that the prison in Brooklyn has closed to lawyers for at least part of the day eight times this month. Similarly, the federal prison in Manhattan has suspended legal visits six times.
“It’s not a sustained arrest, but frankly the biggest issue is the uncertainty of it,” Patton said. “We’re basically finding out every day in the morning if they’re going to have legal visits.”
Willis plans to ask the judge for time served for his client, meaning he could be released on his sentencing date. If the jail continues to prevent legal visits, he said his client could end up in custody for additional weeks or months.
“It is possible that we will write to the judge and ask for at least a short extension of my client’s sentence,” he said.
The biggest problem with this is uncertainty.David Patton, executive director of Federal Defenders of New York
Not only do periodic closings damage the attorney-client relationship, but they are a violation of individuals’ right to counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, Patton said, adding that his office is considering legal action.
The individuals in New York’s detention centers are just a fraction of the growing number of defendants across the country who are being adversely affected by President Trump’s insistence that a funding bill include $5.7 billion for a wall US-Mexico border. While the courts have been able to extend funding for federal defender agencies one week at a time, the funding is not expected to last until February 1st.groups of court-approved lawyers who are appointed on a rotating basis to represent people in criminal cases-they work without pay. So are the lawyers with the Washington, DC Public Defender Service.
“The members of the CJA panel and my office are essential to the proper functioning of the Sixth Amendment,” Jason Hawkins, the federal public defender for the Northern District of Texas, told the Appeal in an email. “We will continue to investigate. our cases, appear in court and defend our client [sic] against the fantastic power of the federal government. Yet we will not be paid.”
Hawkins and other federal public defenders say they are concerned that many of their clients will be held in custody longer than necessary.
“The Sixth Amendment doesn’t close when the government does,” he said.
An extra night in jail
Because United States Marshals work without pay, magistrate judges across the country are taking measures to accommodate staff shortages and the fact that they may need to work second jobs. In the Southern District of New York, the chief judge told magistrate judges to reduce when new cases can be heard.
Typically, individuals who arrive at the Manhattan court before 4:30 pm must present their cases before the magistrate that day, allowing for the appointment of a federal public defender and a bail determination. On January 9, however, the chief judge issued an order stating that “due to the cancellation of funding to the United States Department of Justice, including the United States Marshals Service”, the cutoff for the first appearance would be moved to 3 pm starting the next day .
To meet that deadline, Willis said individuals should be in the door by 1 p.m. to allow for processing time. Because court marshals are typically used to bring the defendants to 4:30 pm, he expressed concern that people would miss the new deadline. “If you don’t make that cutoff, that means you’re going to be held overnight,” he said. “[That includes] someone who might otherwise be released – to get bail and go home – so there’s a lot of breaking out.”
The judges are mindful of the fact that there are constitutional rights at stake and people’s liberties at stake, but there has been a lot of pushback and upheaval.Jennifer Willis, New York assistant federal defender
Under the order, magistrate judges can still choose to allow later appearances in the afternoon. According to Patton, most have accepted late arrivals rather than keeping people overnight.
“The judges are mindful of the fact that there are constitutional rights at stake and people’s liberties at stake, but there’s been a lot of pushback and upheaval,” Willis said.
For at least one client, Willis said she had to deal with her busy schedule and didn’t have time to do the kind of painstaking work she typically does. “This kind of race is not something you want to happen,” he said.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York did not respond to a request for comment (most of the press office is on leave, a representative said). John Marzulli, public information officer for the Eastern District of New York, said business will continue as usual in Brooklyn during the shutdown.
“We don’t get a salary, but we work,” he said.
Federal advocates have questioned whether that’s the right strategy.
“In our perspective,” Patton said, “the answer to the fact that law enforcement does not have the funding to operate normally is not to continue to arrest and prosecute the same number of people and just do business as usual, and then give. they are short shrift on the process and conditions of detention. It is to resize the cases.”
“I can turn down cases if I don’t know what’s on the horizon.”
The uncertainty in prisons and courts extends to CJA lawyers, who have been working without pay since the shutdown began. Camille Knight, The CJA panel representative for the Northern District of Texas told the Appellate Body that no one escapes current cases, but it is likely that some CJA lawyers refuse to take on future clients knowing that the work will not be paid for the indefinite future.
“There are many panel members who also do other work and if the choice is to take a case at an already discounted hourly rate or do something else, they have to do something else,” he said. “I can turn down cases if I don’t know what’s on the horizon.”
Knight said the shutdown will also impact his interactions with customers. The lawyers on his panel had trouble scheduling legal visits with the Bureau of Prisons and advised each other to schedule prison visits as soon as they could because they could be cut off at any time, as in New York.
“There was anecdotal advice going around last week that people should try to visit their clients when they can because there may be some blue flu going around the BOP,” he said, explaining that prison employees could start calling in sick en masse. such as Employees of the Transportation Security Administration and other unpaid federal workers did.
The closure also affects the personal lives of inmates. Like the The New York Times reported, social visits are also blocked in prisons in Manhattan and Brooklyn due to lack of staff. Some inmates at the federal prison in Manhattan began a hunger strike last week, the second week in a row without visits.
“What has been most difficult for customers has been the impact on social visits,” Willis said. “Legal visits are necessary and necessary and we can’t move forward with a case unless lawyers have access to their clients, but it’s really important for them to be able to see their families.”
The prolonged uncertainty has created even more instability in the lives of his clients, he said.
“It’s very nerve-racking and confusing for people not knowing what’s going to happen to them,” Willis said. “Are they going to meet with their lawyer? Can they get their medication? Can they see their family? And it’s day to day – maybe today you have a visit, maybe today you don’t. It’s very worrying.”