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The Supreme Court has ruled that a delay caused by a public defender in a criminal trial does not amount to a constitutional violation that requires dismissal of an indictment.


The court ruling on Monday reverses a Vermont Supreme Court decision that threw out the assault conviction of Michael Brillon. The state court said Brillon's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial had been violated after he was jailed for three years and went through six defense attorneys before his trial for hitting his girlfriend in the face.

In an opinion by Justice Ruth Ginsburg, the court said taxpayers may pay the bills for a public defender, but the lawyer represents his client, not the state.

"Most of the delay that the Vermont Supreme Court attributed to the state must therefore be attributed to Brillon as delays caused by his counsel," Ginsburg said.

But the court also said the state high court should take another look at whether a breakdown in Vermont's public defender system played a role in Brillon's case and, if so, whether his rights were violated.


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