FULL REPORT (6.5 MB, PDF file): Sixth Amendment Center, The Right to Counsel in Lake County, California: Evaluation of Trial Level Indigent Representation Services (February 2023).
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ONLY (5.6 MB, PDF file): Sixth Amendment Center, The Right to Counsel in Lake County, California: Evaluation of Trial Level Indigent Representation Services (February 2023).
In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Gideon v. Wainwright that providing and protecting the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel is a constitutional obligation of the states under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. California has delegated this responsibility to county boards of supervisors and/or the superior court judges in each county in all trial-level cases. When a state chooses to delegate its constitutional responsibilities to local governments, the state must guarantee not only that those local governments are capable of fulfilling those responsibilities but also that they are in fact doing so.
At the request of the County of Lake, 6AC conducted an evaluation of trial-level indigent representation services provided in the county. The Right to Counsel in Lake County, California (February 2023) shows that the State of California has not established any means to ensure that Lake County provides to every indigent defendant an attorney who has the time, training, and resources to provide effective representation at every critical stage of a criminal case.
In Lake County, all court-appointed representation of indigent people at the trial court level is provided by private attorneys. Lake County contracts with an informal partnership of private attorneys, collectively known as Lake Indigent Defense, LLP (LID), to provide representation to indigent defendants, when appointed by the Lake County Superior Court, in an unlimited number of cases of specified types in exchange for a flat annual fee. In turn, the LID partner attorneys subcontract with a number of individual private attorneys (including themselves), to represent indigent people in every type of case whenever they are appointed by the superior court to do so in exchange for a flat monthly fee, without regard to how much or how little time is necessary to provide effective assistance of counsel.
Even though Lake County’s contract with LID provides means by which the county can oversee the partnership’s administration and provision of the right to counsel, the county does not do so. The county does not know, on an on-going basis, whether the right to counsel is being provided effectively, to how many people and in how many cases of what types, by whom, and how much the provision of the effective right to counsel should cost. Instead, Lake County devolves onto the LID partners nearly all of the county’s responsibility for ensuring effective assistance of counsel. Likewise, even though the subcontracts provide means by which the LID partner attorneys can oversee the subcontract attorneys, the LID partner attorneys purposefully do not do so. The LID partner attorneys do not know, on an on-going basis, whether the right to counsel is being provided effectively, to how many people and in how many cases of what types, by whom, and how much the provision of the effective right to counsel should cost.
Lake County has established an indigent representation system that is completely devoid of basic oversight. Neither the State of California, Lake County, nor the LID partner attorneys know whether every indigent who is entitled to public counsel is in fact represented by a qualified and trained attorney, who has sufficient time and resources to provide effective representation under independent supervision. The absence of systemic accountability has allowed deficiencies in the provision of direct services to indigent defendants to become institutionalized. The U.S. Supreme Court describes this as the constructive denial of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.