The Sixth Amendment guarantees that poor people who are accused of a crime and facing jail time have the right to court-appointed counsel. In February 2014 Derek Carlson was in jail facing charges of assault and battery and he could not afford to post bail. When he appeared in court for his arraignment he asked for court-appointed counsel, but the judge denied his request and sent him back to his jail cell.
Several weeks after he was denied counsel, he pleaded guilty because the prosecutor told him that doing so was the fastest way to get out of jail and go home. No one told Mr. Carlson that he could lose his housing and other public benefits as a result of his guilty plea.
In April 2014 the ACLU filed an appeal on Mr. Carlson’s behalf claiming that his guilty plea was invalid because the judge had violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. If Mr. Carlson had been appointed counsel, his lawyer could have argued for a more affordable bail and could have helped Mr. Carlson negotiate with the prosecutor. In June 2014 our appeal was granted and we negotiated an agreement with the prosecutor that will result in the charges being dismissed.
(People v. Carlson; ACLU Attorneys Dan Korobkin and Miriam Aukerman; Cooperating Attorney Katie Clark.)
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