Criminal Justice; Indigent Defense; Equal Protection - On June 21, 2016, the ACLU of Utah and co-counsel Holland & Hart, LLP, filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Utah for failing to meet its Sixth Amendment obligations under the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit, filed in Utah’s Third Judicial District Court, names six individual plaintiffs, as well as multiple John Does, as representative of a class of individuals seeking declaratory relief. The named plaintiffs – who are facing charges in Tooele County, Carbon County and Cache County – were discovered through jail visits and courtroom observations throughout the state. They were selected as plaintiffs because of their experience with difficulties accessing counsel that is indicative of Utah’s indigent defense problems statewide.
The ACLU of Utah has been engaged in advocacy related to Utah’s failing indigent defense system since before 2011, when the organization released “Failing Gideon,” a report that illustrated the many ways in which Utah is failing to fulfill the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of access to legal counsel. A report released in 2015 by the Sixth Amendment Center, a non-partisan research organization, confirmed the dismal findings in “Failing Gideon.”
In 2015 the ACLU of Utah launched our “YES ON SIX” campaign to demand legislative action in 2016, with the goal of substantial state funding and oversight of county-led indigent defense systems.
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