A 16-year-old may not have to answer to a charge of attempted murder because he didn’t get a lawyer for almost a month and a half.
In the case against Alejandro Garcia, supreme court judges will have their first chance to deal with the lack of defense lawyers.
On Tuesday, just a few days before the trial, there will be a hearing to decide whether or not to drop the case.
Tim Dickerson, Garcia’s defense attorney, is fighting against Garcia’s 42-day stay in jail without a lawyer. He says that Garcia’s right to a lawyer and a quick hearing is being violated.
In August 2022, Christian Uribe was shot near the corner of East Butte Street and South Owen Avenue. Garcia is accused of being one of the two shooters who did it.
On August 8, 2022, Uribe reportedly went after a teen and killed Roberto Segura Flores III, a 26-year-old father from Kennewick. This is what led to the attack.
On April 4, Garcia was charged with trying to kill someone in the first degree in connection with the shooting. He has been held at the Benton-Franklin Juvenile Detention Center while waiting for his hearing. He is being tried as an adult.
From the time he was arraigned, he had 60 days to go to trial. This meant that he had to go to trial by next week.
Because there weren’t enough skilled defense lawyers available, in part because of a lack of staff at the Office of Public Defense, Dickerson was given the job on May 15, with only 18 days left on the clock.
Even though he told Judge Jackie Shea-Brown on Friday that he could go to trial next week, Dickerson said that his client deserved a lawyer with more time without giving up his right to a quick trial.
“So far, during the wasted speedy trial time, there has been no investigation, no interviews, no talking to the client, and no discovery at all. This is because the state hasn’t done enough to fund, find, and keep poor defense services. This is clear and unequivocal proof that the suspect was hurt.
He also said that the proof against his client comes from three sources. One of these, a claim made by the other accused shooter, is unlikely to come up at the trial. So it’s best for his client to move on before the authorities find out more.
The Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office has not responded to Dickerson’s request yet.
State’s Trouble with Public Defense
A lot of different things have come together to make it hard to find defense lawyers across the state. Not just in the Tri-Cities is it hard to find good defense lawyers.
Because of their high college debt, fewer lawyers want to take jobs that pay less because they are retiring earlier and there are fewer law school graduates.
Rules made by the state Supreme Court about who can take what cases and how many can be taken at once have made it even harder to find lawyers.
The COVID pandemic put a lot of cases on hold for a couple of years, so there is a huge pile of trials.
Things are getting really bad in Franklin County. At the time, he only has two lawyers who can handle murder cases and three lawyers who can handle other types of crimes.
During his 19 years as a Franklin County deputy prosecutor, Dickerson saw as many as five or six public defenders at one point.
The tweet below verifies the news:
He is accused of being one of two possible shooters trying to kill a rival. https://t.co/dugpr3gA1G
— TriCityHerald (@TriCityHerald) May 28, 2023
The office doesn’t have enough lawyers to take on new cases for the third month in a row, and there are still about 80 felony cases waiting for a lawyer.
And it was hard for Garcia to find a lawyer because many of the lawyers who were available had conflicts of interest.
Shea-Brown held a hearing on Friday to find out if the delay in picking an attorney was a “unavoidable and unforeseen” event.
Both lawyers found that the county’s Public Defense Office had done everything it could to find lawyers.
Larry Zeigler, who is in charge of public defense for the county, testified on Friday that some parts of the problem could have been seen coming, like problems with public defense funds. Other parts, like COVID or the number of homicide cases, were a surprise.
Not the Fault of the Defendant
Dickerson claimed that Garcia’s defense shouldn’t be hurt by the fact that Franklin County and the state are having trouble finding public defenders.
“But the court and the state keep forgetting that the state is required to fund, hire, and keep indigent defense attorneys for every defendant and every case that is eligible for indigent defense,” Dickerson said.
He said that trial courts have given defense lawyers more time, even when their clients didn’t want it, because there was a good reason to do so.
The decisions are made so that the accused person has a chance to have the best defense, but Dickerson said that in this case, the delay has already hurt the defendant by holding him in jail without letting him talk to an attorney.
“Any delay at this point hurts the defendant and makes it harder for him or her to defend the case,” he said.