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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Topher Sanders

Misdemeanor Defendants Facing Jail Time Not Told They Have a Right to Counsel, Bar Association Finds

by Topher Sanders, ProPublica

American Bar Association monitors report misdemeanor defendants in Nashville often aren’t told they are entitled to a lawyer even when their charges mean they could end up behind bars.

Later that day in September 2016, a group of five defendants was called up by a local prosecutor and offered the previously arranged plea deals, some of which might have resulted in days behind bars. One defendant asked to see a judge. The prosecutor said that was not possible, and that her only choice at that moment was to plead guilty, or to plead not guilty and go to trial. The defendant could only speak to the judge, the prosecutor said, if she rejected the plea offer. Again, none of the defendants was told they had the right to see a lawyer before entering any plea.The defendants were booked, photographed, fingerprinted and then led into Court 1A in the county courthouse in Nashville. There was no judge. Prosecutors handling the misdemeanor cases invited the accused who were interested in pleading guilty to step forward and finalized plea deals for suspended sentences and an array of fines. There were no defense lawyers, nor were any of ...


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