A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

On September 28, the Associated Press reported that the Supreme Court ordered Judge Benjamin Lerner to conduct hearings on a Petition by the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation over inadequate counsel fees in homicide cases. Judge Lerner was ordered to hold hearings within 90 days and submit recommendations within 60 days.

Marc Bookman of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation submits the following comment:

Philadelphia County lays claim to the following remarkable statistics:

1) it pays its court-appointed attorneys less to prepare a capital case than any remotely comparable jurisdiction in the country;
2) it has the highest reversal rate of death penalty cases for ineffective assistance of counsel of any city in the country;
3) its District Attorney seeks the death penalty as often if not more than any jurisdiction in the country.

These three facts are inextricably linked and result in the following scenario: the Commonwealth routinely seeks the death penalty, pays virtually nothing for the representation of the accused, then suffers the consequences through reversal after reversal. It is the contention of this motion that the fee structure currently in place in Philadelphia presents an unconstitutional barrier to effective representation, and that the right to effective representation is inextricably interlinked to the attorney’s right to fair compensation.

After several dismissals by the Court of Common Pleas, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has now granted a hearing to determine whether the rates currently paid to court-appointed counsel in Philadelphia for capital cases are so low that ineffectiveness may be presumed “globally,” or whether such an analysis should be on a case by case basis. In addition, Judge Lerner (who is conducting the hearing) has been asked to make recommendations to improve the Homicide Program. Presumably this hearing will address changes in the rate of compensation.

The Free Student Research Center is now OPEN. It will be open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 9AM to 3PM. The Free Student Research Center is available for use by attorneys who are current members of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section and who are court-appointed to the case for which they seek research (either state or CJA!).

The Free Student Research Center is located in the Jack Myers Memorial Lounge on the Third Floor of the CJC. You may make a research request in person or via the Criminal Justice Section website at http://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/CJResearch

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