Miami-Dade Public Defender Seeks International Cooperation to Improve Indigent Defense Representation and Reduce Taxpayer Burden

Miami-Dade Public Defender Bennett H. Brummer recently met with local consular officials from about 20 countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Germany, Honduras, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. The participants worked to increase cooperation between their offices and the Public Defender and discussed a number of important topics, such as: consular notification under the Vienna Convention, access to critical information from detainees’ home countries, and clients’ difficulty in understanding the American criminal justice system and its consequences, particularly deportation. Officials from other countries, including Peru, Bolivia, Honduras and Nicaragua, are also participating in this program.

According to a recent Miami Herald article, Miami-Dade County has the highest immigration rate in the country. Consequently, many appointed Public Defender clients are not US citizens. Mr. Brummer requested the assistance of the consuls and stated that “improved consular cooperation with the Public Defender will help us to better represent your nationals and more effectively perform the offices’ constitutional and statutory responsibilities.”

The consular officials expressed support for the Public Defender’s initiative. One of their main concerns is the need to locate their detained citizens who may be experiencing great distress or confusion due to language and cultural barriers. One consular official said, “authorities do not always notify us whether one of our citizens is detained and that is a disappointment.” Mr. Brummer stated that, although consular notification is the responsibility of law enforcement, the Public Defender’s Office for the Eleventh Circuit would implement a process for consular notification, upon the request of a detained foreign national. That process has already been put into effect.

Mr. Brummer presented several working proposals for the local consulates. On proposal addressed several treaties that allow foreign nationals to serve their sentences in their home countries. If the sentenced person, the State, the consulate and the Governor agree that the sentence be served abroad, Florida taxpayers would not have to pay the cost of incarceration or supervision. This cost can range from approximately $17,000 to $27,000 per inmate, per year, depending on the facility.

Public Defender Bennett Brummer made reference to the value of international cooperation by stating that, “Intercultural exchange for support of indigent defense goes beyond the scope of the criminal justice system. It contributes to the attainment of social justice, civil stability, the rule of law, and the overall improvement of commerce and opportunities for development.” By the end of the meeting, the Miami-Dade Public Defender and local consular officials had identified several action items and established specific goals for the immediate future. The meeting provided the basis to identify available resources and increase cooperation.

For further information on the consular and public defense cooperation project, please contact Sonia Slaughter, Project Coordinator, at 305.545.1900 or Public Defender Bennett H. Brummer by e-mail: pd@pdmiami.com.

 

 

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Law Offices of the Public Defender
Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida

 

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