Saturday, August 30, 2008

Denver DNC: Mass arrested pressured to waive rights

Contacts: Brian Vicente, Director, National Lawyers Guild DNC People's Law
Project, (720) 280-4067
Miriam Stohs, Esq., Colorado Chapter liaison, NLG (303) 929-5501


Denver-- The National Lawyers Guild DNC People's Law Project (PLP) criticizes the procedures that created a high risk of accused persons waiving their rights without access to lawyers or an adequate understanding of their cases.

The PLP is particularly concerned with today's phone call from the Denver County Courts alerting defendants that they could appear in court on Friday, August 29 "for an opportunity to dispose of their case." The information provided by court clerks did not inform defendants that they could set their cases for jury trial. Earlier this week, eighty-two persons were taken into custody during a preemptive mass arrest. Upon release, most defendants were told they had to appear in court on
September 2, 2008 even if they resided out of state. Although defendants were called throughout the day regarding the new court appearance, PLP attorneys were not notified of this hearing until late Thursday.

This development heightens PLP's concern that people are being unfairly pressured to plead guilty, rather than exercise their constitutional rights to trial. The PLP sees a pattern of unusual and potentially abusive practices implemented for the DNC, notably:

- Attorneys refused entry to the detention center to consult with detainees who requested counsel;
- Initial court appearances from Monday's arrests were scheduled for 1:00 AM, leaving activists and bystanders scrambling to obtain legal counsel in the dead of night;
- City Attorneys offered punitive plea bargains that ignored widespread absence of probable cause;
- The Court refused to release people on their recognizance regardless of an absence of criminal history and the presence of significant community ties; and
- The Sheriff failed to release individuals in a timely manner after they posted bond, transferring them to the county jail and slowly processing them out.

Together, these unusual practices raise PLP's concern that people have been and will be unfairly pressured to plead guilty. The PLP is organizing volunteer attorneys to be present at the special appearance set for Friday morning in Denver County Courtroom 100K.

The People's Law Project, a project of the Colorado Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, was established in late 2007 to ensure that peoples' voices are heard at the DNC and their constitutional rights are protected. The PLP is coordinating Legal Observers for public events and arranging legal representation for individuals who are arrested.

Founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association, which did not admit people of color, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.

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Censored News is published by censored journalist Brenda Norrell. A journalist for 27 years, Brenda lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, writing for Navajo Times, AP, USA Today, Lakota Times and other American Indian publications. After being censored and then terminated by Indian Country Today in 2006, she began the Censored Blog to document the most censored issues. She currently serves as human rights editor for the U.N. OBSERVER & International Report at the Hague and contributor to Sri Lanka Guardian, Narco News and CounterPunch. She was cohost of the 5-month Longest Walk Talk Radio across America, with Earthcycles Producer Govinda Dalton in 2008:
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