Berkshire DA: Law won't cut costs in state indigent defense system
Berkshire County's District Attorney blasts a bill that would overhaul the state's indigent defense system. He sat down with our Brandon Walker to discuss the issue and what he thinks needs to be done to fix it.
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PITTSFIELD, M.A. -- The bill, filed by State Representative David Linsky, is an amendment to how the state represents defendants who can't afford an attorney.
"People are entitled to a defense but of course constitutionally they're only entitled to one in which they face a possible penalty of incarceration," said David Capeless, District Attorney of Berkshire County.
That's the loophole on which Linsky's bill is built. It follows a report from the House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, which recommends Beacon Hill do away with court appointed attorneys for misdemeanors that carry little threat of jail time.
Lawmakers say it would save the state $10 million from an indigent defense budget that hovers around $200 million.
"We are spending twice as many tax dollars to defend indigent defendants as we are to prosecute them," said Capeless, a Democrat.
But that doesn't mean Capeless supports the bill. In fact, he says the legislation is off target.
"It's gotten to the point now where over 90 percent of the assignments are to private attorneys and this is costing all the money."
The DA's stance stems from a long-standing and highly publicized issue with the state hiring private defenders to represent those in need. Capeless said they make more than assistant district attorneys in his office, and as such, are a big reason why indigent defense requires such a fat tab.
"That is a lobbying group of over 3000 strong of attorneys who are getting paid under this system," Capeless said.
Lawmakers will debate the bill on Beacon Hill.
Meanwhile, members of the Berkshire Delegation tell YNN they hope to learn more the issues as talks progress.