Tuesday, May 28, 2013

PD's may refuse cases due to excess workload - Florida Supreme Court

In Public Defender v. State of Florida the state's Supreme Court granted certification of the following question, submitted by the 11th District Public Defender (Miami-Dade):

Whether section 27.5303(1)(d), Florida Statutes (2007), which prohibits a trial court from granting a motion for withdrawal by a public defender "based solely on “conflicts arising from underfunding, excessive caseload or the prospective inability to adequately represent a client,” is unconstitutional as a violation of an indigent client’s right to effective assistance of counsel and access to the courts, and a violation of the separation of powers mandated by Article II, section 3 of the Florida Constitution as legislative interference with the  judiciary’s inherent authority to provide counsel and the Supreme Court’s exclusive control over the ethical rules governing lawyer conflicts of interest? [emph. added]
The Third District also certified a question regarding the constitutionality of section 27.5303(1)(d), which provides that “[i]n no case shall the court approve a withdrawal by the public defender . . . based solely on the inadequacy of funding or excess workload.” See Bowens, 39 So. 3d at 481.

The Court has now spoken and the answer is YES the statute is constitutional on its face, but perhaps not as applied.  Withdrawal may be permitted - in appropriate cases which will have to meet Strickland v. Washington standards of ineffective assistance of counsel under the 6th Amendment's guarantee of a fair trial in a genuine adversary proceeding:

Thus, we find the statute to be facially constitutional and answer the certified question in the negative. However, the statute should not be applied to preclude a public defender from filing a motion to withdraw based on excessive caseload or underfunding that would result in ineffective representation of indigent defendants nor to preclude a trial court from granting a motion to withdraw under those circumstances."

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