PORTLAND — A federal judge has ordered all Oregon counties to release criminal defendants from jail within seven days of their first court appearance if they’re being held without a lawyer assigned to them, reasoning that doing so deprives them of their Sixth Amendment right to an attorney.
This rule applies to the whole state and starts on November 16. It affects people who are currently in jail without a lawyer and anyone in the future who doesn’t have legal representation.
Right now, there are 135 people in Oregon jails who can’t afford a lawyer and haven’t been given one by the court, according to a state website.
The judge’s decision comes from a lawsuit filed by the Oregon Federal Public Defender’s Office. They argued on behalf of people who can’t afford their own lawyer.
Oregon’s system for providing lawyers to those who can’t pay has been having problems for a long time. It is the only one in the country that relies completely on outside contractors. A report from the American Bar Association in January 2022 found that the state has only 31% of the public defenders it needs.
The judge said that to really fix the problem, there needs to be big changes in the system and the laws. The state government did pass a bill earlier this year that promised to make things better by giving public defenders more money and making other changes.
In a statement to Elkhorn Media, the Baker County Sheriff’s Office says “In regard to this ruling issued by Judge McShane, it isn’t anticipated that there will be a significant impact to Baker County. Sheriff Ash is unaware of any adults-in-custody at the Baker County Jail that have had difficulty obtaining a public defender.”