Frederick Mardlin is a 32-year old married father of three who spent three years in jail for a crime that he did not commit. He was wrongfully convicted of burning down his house to collect the insurance. His court-appointed public defense attorney was unable to obtain the funds to retain an electrical expert to testify at his trial. That expert could have testified that the fire was not set intentionally but caused by faulty wiring.
So Fred sat in jail for three years before he was paroled. Because he insists on clearing his name, he is appealing his conviction. Although he is entitled as a matter of law to a court-appointed appellate attorney, the State of Michigan refuses to pay that attorney’s bills. Fortunately, the attorney has agreed to work on Fred’s case free of charge. The attorney has also located a pro-bono electrical expert who is willing to help Fred overturn his conviction.
Fred’s story illustrates how Michigan’s public defense system is often unable to effectively represent its clients and how, despite constitutional guarantees, a court hearing does not ensure a fair just decision. Too often, innocent people go to jail, those who have broken the law receive sentences that are harsher than the facts of their crime warrant.
Faces of Failing Public Defense Systems, a new report issued by the ACLU, ACLU of Michigan and the Campaign For Justice, shows how Michigan’s crumbling public defense system allows innocent individuals to become collateral damage as a result of inadequate legal representation. The report tells the stories of men who were charged with crimes, were inadequately represented by public defense attorneys and consequently incarcerated for years.