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The US appeals court has ruled that Oregon defendants who do not have a lawyer must be let out of jail

United States Courthouse building (Via Jake Marsh/Shutterstock)

A federal appeals court confirmed a ruling that Oregon must release defendants from jail within seven days if they lack a defense attorney.

According to OPB, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals criticized Oregon’s public defense system, calling it a “Sixth Amendment nightmare,” which guarantees the right to a lawyer for people accused of crimes. The court emphasized Oregon’s duty to protect the legal rights of criminal defendants.

Oregon has grappled with a long-standing crisis in public defense. As of last Friday, over 3,200 defendants were without a public defender, as per the Oregon Judicial Department’s data.

Among them, about 146 were in custody, though fewer were expected to be affected by the court’s decision, OPB noted.

A March draft report from the Office of Public Defense Services indicated Oregon needs 500 more attorneys to fulfill its legal obligations, according to OPB. State officials have tried to address the problem, including by increasing funding, but structural challenges persist.

A visitor leaves the Mall of America (Via Jim Moore/Getty Images)

Next year, Oregon’s Public Defense Commission will shift from the judiciary to the governor’s executive branch. Lawmakers anticipate this move will offer greater support to the agency.

The 9th Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction issued last year by U.S. District Court Judge Michael McShane. The case arose in Washington County, where ten individuals charged with crimes and detained without court-appointed lawyers filed a class action habeas corpus petition through the federal public defender’s office in the state.

Oregon’s federal public defender, Fidel Cassino-DuCloux, welcomed Friday’s decision, stating it gives real meaning to the Sixth Amendment’s promise of legal counsel for many Oregonians presumed innocent and facing criminal charges.

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