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Utah Courts Are Not Fullfilling People's Sixth Amendment Rights

Photo of the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Brian Grimmett
Matheson Courthouse

Utah Courts are not doing a great job at facilitating people’s Sixth Amendment Rights. That’s according to a new report by the Utah Judicial Council and the Sixth Amendment Center.

The report points out that Utah is one of only two states that leaves funding and administering indigent defense services entirely to local governments. This has resulted in courts across the state operating with inconsistent standards and without sufficient oversight to determine if they’re actually meeting the requirements laid out in the constitution. Jon Mosher is the Deputy Director of theSixth Amendment Center. He says they found that the majority of people accused of a misdemeanor in Utah Justice Courts are processed without an attorney, but

“Issues concerning the right to council aren’t limited to Utah’s misdemeanor courts, however, in felony courts the vast majority of indigent defendants are provided with a lawyer," he says. "But depending on the jurisdiction, that lawyer might work under certain financial conflicts of interest or be appointed too late in the process or be juggling too many cases to mount an affective defense.”

The Judicial Council report includes three major recommendations: asking local governments to reform indigent defense service contracts, creating better training and support for judges in justice courts, and asking the legislature to create an Indigent Defense Commission. Rick Schwermer is the state’s assistant court administrator. He says the commission would be able to provide statewide oversight and standards.

“And that oversight commission is the hub around which the other recommendations are going to be spokes," he says. "And it needs to occur first and that needs to occur, I think in our view, this legislative session.”

Schwermer says he’s talked to several members of the legislature about the commission and so far hasn’t heard any objections. 

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