A 16-year-old can drop an attempted murder charge because he has been denied a lawyer for nearly a month and a half.
The case against Alejandro Garcia will be the first opportunity to see how superior court judges can deal with the continued shortage of defense attorneys.
A hearing to dismiss the case is scheduled for Tuesday, just days before the trial begins.
Defense attorney Tim Dickerson is challenging Garcia’s 42-day detention without a lawyer, saying it violates his client’s right to a lawyer and to a speedy trial.
Garcia is accused of being one of two gunmen responsible for shooting Christian Uribe near the intersection of East Butte Street and South Owen Avenue in August 2022.
The attack came after Uribe targeted a teenager and allegedly punched and killed a 26-year-old Kennewick father, Roberto Segura Flores III, on August 8, 2022.
Garcia was arraigned on April 4 for attempted first-degree murder in connection with the shooting. He was held at Benton-Franklin Juvenile Detention Center pending trial and is being tried as an adult.
That impeachment started a 60-day clock for when a trial was due, which meant he needed a trial next week.
A lack of available defense attorneys qualified to handle the case, in part due to a staffing shortage at the Office of Public Defense, led to Dickerson’s appointment on May 15 with only 18 days remaining at that time. clock.
While he told Judge Jackie Shea Brown on Friday that he could be tried next week, his client deserved to have a lawyer who would have more time without giving up his right to a speedy trial, Dickerson said.
“During the speedy and lost trial time to date, no investigation, no interview, no conversation with the client, in fact no discovery has occurred due to the state’s inability to fund, recruit and retain adequately the indigent defense services. It is a clear, unambiguous and real prejudice caused to the defendant. »
He also pointed out that the case against his client rests on three pieces of evidence. One of them, an accusation by the other alleged shooter, is unlikely to come up at trial. It is therefore in the interest of his client to move forward before the prosecutors find no more.
The Franklin County District Attorney’s Office has not filed its response to Dickerson’s motion.
State public defense issue
A confluence of circumstances has come together to create a statewide shortage of defense attorneys. The problem of recruiting defense attorneys is not unique to the Tri-Cities.
A combination of rising retirements and fewer law graduates has combined with fewer lawyers wanting to take lower-paying jobs due to high college debt.
The lack of lawyers has been exacerbated by rules set by the state Supreme Court that limit who can take on what cases and how many can be handled at a time.
The problem is compounded by a huge backlog of trials, as the COVID pandemic put many cases on hold for a few years.
The situation in Franklin County has become desperate. At the moment, he only has two qualified lawyers to handle murder cases and three felony lawyers.
That’s down from the five or six public defense attorneys Dickerson has seen in his 19 years as an assistant Franklin County prosecutor.
The office is in its third month of shortage of lawyers for newly filed cases and continues to have a backlog of approximately 80 crimes requiring an attorney.
And finding a lawyer for Garcia was difficult due to conflicts of interest with other available lawyers.
Shea Brown held a hearing on Friday to consider whether the delay in appointing counsel qualified as an “inevitable and unforeseen” circumstance.
The two attorneys found that the county’s Office of Public Defense had taken all possible steps to recruit attorneys.
County Director of Public Defense Larry Zeigler testified Friday that some aspects of the problem could have been foreseen, like public defense funding issues, others were a surprise, like COVID or the number of cases. of homicide.
It’s not the defendant’s fault
But Franklin County and state difficulties with public defenders should not hamper Garcia’s defense, Dickerson argued.
“Yet the court and the state still fail to remember that the state is mandated to adequately fund, recruit and retain indigent defense attorneys for every defendant, and every case filed that is eligible for the indigent defense. “Dickerson said.
He said trial courts granted defense attorneys an extension, even over their clients’ objections, because there was good reason to do so.
Rulings are made so the defendant has a chance to have the best defense, but Dickerson said the defendant in this case has already been hurt by the delay in keeping him in custody without access to counsel.
“Any prosecution at this stage compounds the harm to the defendant and his ability to defend the case,” he said.