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Loophole in law can inadvertently reveal youthful convictions

A couple of weeks back, we discussed the landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright and how it required all states to ensure that all criminal defendants had an attorney representing them, even people who could not afford one on their own. This decision led to the creation of public defender systems in many states and counties that had not previously provided such a vital service.

A public defender is a defense attorney appointed by the judge to an indigent defendant, whose legal fees are paid for by the county. Without a public defender, many defendants would be forced to go to trial without an attorney, leaving them totally vulnerable to the power of the government that has been trained against them.

However, using a public defender can have an unexpected consequence that affects the defendant’s privacy. As the Lansing State Journal recently reported, Michigan’s system of paying public defenders can contradict programs designed to help youthful defendants keep their records clean.

Under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, younger defendants convicted of certain crimes may be eligible to serve their sentence in special facilities, or complete a special form of probation. If they successfully carry out the sentence, and avoid arrest in the future, the court will wipe the conviction off the defendant’s record.

But because county spending records are subject to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, it is possible for payments to public defenders to become publicly known. And the clients’ names are attached to those records, meaning that their convictions could get disclosed, despite the HYTA’s promise of helping people get past youthful indiscretions.

Lawmakers admitted to the State Journal that this loophole was an oversight, and suggested they might fix it.

For those who can afford it, we strongly recommend hiring a defense attorney to protect your rights and obtain a just result of your case.

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