Letter to Governor DeWine and essential services of criminal defense attorneys
March 22, 2020
Dear Governor DeWine,
I write as President of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (OACDL). The OACDL appreciates the leadership you have provided during the Covid-19 crisis. With your leadership, we are hopeful Ohio will not need to issue a “shelter in place” or similar order. However, we would like you to know our concerns about the impact of such an order on criminal defendants’ ability to avail themselves of the right to counsel guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions.
Similar orders in other states have not properly considered the right to counsel for criminal defendants. We take solace in that fact that you have a wealth of experience with our criminal justice system. Given that, we hope that any “shelter in place” or similar order would account for the need of criminal defense lawyers to travel to court, to meet with clients and to engage in the typical activities necessary to provide those individuals the effective assistance of counsel.
Under the orders issued in other states, full-time Public Defenders would fall under the “essential government function” provisions. However, most jurisdictions in Ohio do not have a full-time Public Defender Office and instead depend upon private counsel, both appointed and retained, to fulfill the guarantees of the Sixth Amendment.
If a “shelter in place” order in Ohio is similar to other states in that it designates “businesses providing essential functions” or “essential businesses”, we respectfully request “Criminal Defense Attorneys” be included in the most essential category. Should the order by more detailed and specific, we propose it contain language such as, “Criminal defense attorneys shall be permitted to travel to court, to locations where a client is being detained, or to their offices in relation to representation of a client who is in custody and/or whose life, liberty, rights or privileges are in jeopardy by virtue of criminal charges”.
The OACDL is encouraging its members to follow CDC guidance relative to meetings and contact with others. We are suggesting members use telephone or video conferencing when possible. However, to use this technology, some lawyers may need to travel to their offices to access their computers, other equipment, and sufficient internet connections.
Thank you for giving due consideration to our concerns about the right to counsel during this pandemic. The OACDL will continue to serve the citizens of Ohio the best we can during this unprecedented situation.
Shawn R. Dominy