Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2014

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Study decries poor defendants’ access to lawyers in rural Nevada

Criminal suspects who are poor may be held in jail in rural Nevada counties for weeks or even months before they are able to talk to a defense lawyer, a study says.

The nonprofit Sixth Amendment Center released a report Friday that said that as time elapses, the memories of witnesses fade and investigative leads go cold.

The report was presented to the Indigent Defense Commission of the Nevada Supreme Court, which will hold a hearing on the issue.

There is no problem in Clark and Washoe counties, which have local public defenders’ offices, said the center whose study was commissioned by the court.

It found that there is a limited number of lawyers practicing in the rural counties and that a defendant “may be one of several hundred vying for the time and attention of the lawyer.”

The center said even the most competent lawyer with the heavy caseload “can effectively open, investigate and dispose of cases at a rate of nearly five and a half cases per day, every single day of the year, weekends and holidays included.”

Besides the limited number of available lawyers, the center based in Boston, said most rural counties don’t have the money to pay these attorneys.

Supreme Court Justice Michael Cherry, chairman of the court’s defense commission, is recommending the state pay for a public defense commission to oversee and administer all right-to-counsel services outside of Clark and Washoe counties.

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