The State Bar of Michigan has a long-standing history of working to make the justice system fair and accessible to all. Now, its umbrella volunteer committee, Justice Initiatives, is taking on a new challenge: the many unmet needs that arise from the interconnection of civil and criminal issues.
The Criminal Issues Initiative, chaired by Detroit-area attorney Frank D. Eaman, will examine closely whether lawyers and the justice system are dealing as well as they should with the civil and collateral consequences of some crimes—for instance, when people convicted of certain crimes are no longer eligible to receive student aid or government housing or when non-citizens can be deported even for minor crimes. It's a question of attorneys and clients knowing that when criminal punishments end, their clients may still face negative, and in some cases more serious, consequences than their criminal punishments.
"A lot of lawyers don't know what the civil and collateral consequences of criminal convictions are, and they run the risk of resolving their criminal cases with minimal criminal consequences to their clients such as probation, but with maximum civil or collateral consequences such as deportation. We are trying to educate lawyers about these problems so that they will understand what will happen to their clients if they are convicted of certain crimes," Eaman said.
A 22-member committee headed by Eaman plans to host a joint conference with Michigan law schools, develop training programs and resources like decision checklists, handbooks, manuals, self-help materials and training modules so attorneys and other interested organizations can learn more about the civil and collateral consequences of criminal convictions.
"In addition to informing criminal defense attorneys about the civil and collateral consequences of their clients' convictions, our committee expects to move forward in the future with other programs directed toward improving the delivery system of indigent defense in Michigan and in ensuring that indigent defendants have equal access to criminal justice along with those who are able to afford their own attorneys," Eaman added.
Members of the Criminal Issues Initiative come from various disciplines and will work to come up with holistic solutions to criminal justice and representational issues.