AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — A new report published by the Sixth Amendment Center, a bipartisan national nonprofit, shows some alarming numbers related to the criminal justice system in Potter and Armstrong Counties.

The report finds several issues, but one problem that sticks out is out of Potter County’s court system.

It states that about 74% of misdemeanor defendants are processed regularly through the criminal court’s system without even talking to a lawyer.

The U.S. Constitution’s sixth amendment guarantees that anyone charged with a crime has the right to an attorney, whether they can afford one or not.

The Sixth Amendment Center’s deputy director Jon Mosher said many of the indigent defenders here in Potter County were put under pressure to forego their right to counsel.

Then they head straight to plea court, where they speak directly with prosecutors. Mosher said part of the problem, is that no one is speaking up about the issue.

“What we saw in Potter County specifically is that actually a lot of criminal justice stakeholders are uncomfortable with the process of encouraging defendants to forego representation at such a degree. What we saw was that there’s a discomfort but it survives through inertia. There’s no one in charge of saying, hey, maybe we should do something differently,” Mosher explained.

He says a possible solution, would be for these counties to request the state to step in and take responsibility.

Mosher added that the absence of state oversight has resulted in this absence of local oversight.

Potter County Attorney Scott Brumley says he’s not sure there’s consistent agreement within the county that the report got everything right.
“I don’t agree with the harsh tone, especially when we’re the ones who asked for analysis, ” he said.

Brumley did say, however, that the county is working to fix some of the issues presented.

“Our prosecutors need to not be present during arraignments when unrepresented defendants come in on misdemeanor cases, we won’t be involved unless the defendant tells the judge and executes a waiver saying no I want to talk to the prosecutor and I don’t want my own lawyer,” Brumley explained.

Others in the community, are calling for more action. Ryan Brown, of Blackburn and Brown, LLP, says county officials have known about these issues prior to the report.

“The problem is that the local officialdom will say we’re working on these problems, we’re trying to fix them. They’ve known about these problems for years,” Brown said.

He explained and his partner, Jeff Blackburn, released a study on the misdemeanor system here in Potter County years ago.

He’s hoping this report, will shine more light on the issues.

“Reports like this give a lot of weight to the issues that we and a lot of other people are already aware of,” Brown said.

Brown believes part of the solution is getting a public defender.

The full report by the Sixth Amendment Center is nearly 200 pages, and outlines many other issues, including how lawyers are incentivized.

That report can be found here.