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SCOW to review whether the county must appoint counsel when SPD can’t

State v. Nhia Lee, 2019AP221-CR, petition for review granted 5/19/21; case activity (including briefs)

Issues:

Whether a circuit court is required to appoint counsel at the county’s expense when the SPD is unable to do so within 10 days of the defendant’s initial appearance?

Whether Lee’s rights to due process, to counsel, and to a speedy trial were violated by his protracted pretrial confinement as he waited for the State Public Defender to find counsel for him.

This case arose in 2018 when Wisconsin private bar lawyers were unwilling to take public defender appointments at the abysmal rate of $40/per hour. After Lee’s initial appearance, the circuit court repeatedly found good cause to extend the time limit for holding his preliminary hearing while the State Public Defender searched for a lawyer to take his case.  By the time it found one, Lee had been in custody without counsel for 101 days.

The court of appeals resolved this case by holding that the circuit court should have dismissed the complaint against Lee because it lost personal jurisdiction when it extended the statutory deadline for holding a preliminary hearing without a proper finding of good cause. It also provided a list of factors circuit courts should address when deciding whether to postpone a preliminary hearing due to a delay in appointing counsel. Read our post here.

However, the court of appeals rejected the argument that the circuit court was required to appoint counsel at the county’s expense. Even though Lee won the dismissal of his criminal case, it appears that SCOW will now address the other issues presented by his appeal.

 

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