News Release

New York's High Court Issues Landmark Right to Counsel Ruling

Washington, DC (May 6, 2010) – The New York Court of Appeals ruled today in the case of Hurrell-Harring, et al. v. New York that indigent defendants denied their constitutional right to counsel do not have to be first convicted before seeking to vindicate that right. Until now, indigent defendants have been prevented from seeking redress of the denial of their right to counsel, which attaches at arraignment, unless and until they are convicted. The Court was clear, “Wrongful convictions … are not the only injustices that command our present concern…. The absence of representation at critical stages is capable of causing grave and irreparable injury to persons who will not be convicted.” Addressing the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1963 decision guaranteeing the right to counsel for all, the Court announced that “Gideon’s guarantee to the assistance of counsel does not turn upon a defendant’s guilt or innocence, and neither can the availability of a remedy for its denial.”

NACDL brought together a diverse group of bar associations representing 100,000 lawyers, and law centers and dozens of law professors from all of New York State’s 15 law schools to submit an amicus curiae brief to the New York Court of Appeals supporting a challenge to the adequacy of New York State’s indigent defense system brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union. These groups and individuals united to address New York’s broken system for providing legal representation to poor defendants in criminal cases in the view that if the state’s system of indigent defense is constitutionally inadequate, a court must say so and fix it.

The joint amicus brief was written by lead counsel Susan J. Walsh, a partner at Moskowitz, Book & Walsh, LLP in New York City, NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer and NACDL Assistant Director of Public Affairs & Communications Ivan J. Dominguez.

“Today is a tremendous day for fairness and justice in New York,” declared Walsh, adding that “Every New Yorker should be proud that our highest court has affirmed that all New Yorkers accused of a crime, whether they are innocent or guilty, now have recourse in the courts if there is systemic denial of the basic constitutional right to counsel.” Pointing out that New York’s Court of Appeals is among the most respected courts in the U.S., Walsh said “This decision could have profound consequences for indigent reform efforts throughout the country.”

NACDL President Cynthia Hujar Orr said that “It is vitally important for accused persons to be able to challenge a system that is depriving them of their constitutional right to counsel, and the New York Court of Appeals clearly recognized this in its decision today.” Orr continued, “We are so proud to have worked closely with the New York State Bar Association, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the New York County Lawyers’ Association, the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University School of Law, the Jacob Burns Center for Ethics in the Practice of Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, the Criminal Justice Center at Pace University School of Law, the Center on Latino and Latina Rights and Equality at CUNY School of Law, and 40 New York law professors from all 15 law schools in New York State to help bring about today’s important outcome. I also want to thank Susan Walsh, Norman Reimer, and Ivan Dominguez, as well as all of NACDL’s professional staff. Their tireless work on behalf of the accused improves justice for all.”

Today’s New York Court of Appeals decision is available at:

The joint amicus brief is available on NACDL’s Web site at:$FILE/Hurrell_Amicus.pdf

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NACDL Communications Department

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.