Public Defender: Police Denying Right to Attorney to Detainees

Despite a Supreme Court ruling, police do not make a point of informing all those arrested of their right to public counsel before being questioned.

The rights of suspects and detainees are being violated, with many not even enjoying their basic right to consult a lawyer - this is one of the striking findings of the Public Defender's Office in its report on 2008-2009, to be released this morning.

The report, which has been submitted to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, details rights violations pertaining to people represented by the Public Defender's Office, which is the major player in Israel in representing defendants in criminal proceedings.

court - Moti Kimche - Sept 22 2010
Moti Kimche

Despite a Supreme Court ruling, the police failed to adapt its guidelines for investigators on providing the right to counsel during questioning, says the report.

By law, everyone under arrest is entitled to meet with a lawyer. The arresting officer in charge must inform the suspect immediately of his right to request a public defender, and the detainee is entitled to have the request relayed without delay to the Public Defender's Office.

In practice, however - despite the Supreme Court ruling, the stipulations of the law and the regulations - the police do not make a point of informing all those arrested of their right to public counsel before being questioned.

The report finds that a vast majority of those arrested are informed of their right to consult a public defender only after they have been questioned and transferred to a holding facility. Some even learn of this right only when they are brought to court the next day and meet the public defender on duty.

"The right to counsel prior to interrogation is reserved only for privileged interrogees who knew beforehand about their interrogation and who are not detained and not arrested," the report states.

The report devotes a special chapter to the lack of a framework for treating minors who are designated borderline disabled, either mentally or cognitively.

Lately, the Public Defender's Office has encountered an increasing number of minors whose cognitive or mental level does not fit the official classification, but is defined as borderline. They are still being sent to prison for lack of a systemic solution adapted to their status even when the juvenile court recommended treatment.

Leaving suspects in detention

Another failing the report uncovers is that police leave suspects in detention for hours and even days just so they can be brought before a judge to request release on bail.

The alternative is release on bail at the police station. According to the report, in numerous investigations the police conclude the suspect need not remain in custody and may be released under restrictive conditions. The Public Defender's Office found, however, there's no means for depositing bail money at police stations.

"The police prefers to use the court administration's orderly money deposit system and so save on their administrative costs, at the suspect's expense," the report says.

The Public Defender's Office also faults the arrest procedure in remand extensions via video conferencing. Since 2007, the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court has experimented with holding hearings on remand extensions and release on bail via video conferencing.

The report points out flaws in the program, including difficulty locating detainees at police stations or holding facilities to provide advice and obtain their signed consent to the proceeding; technical difficulties in operating the system; and even hearings that judges hold illegally.

The national public defender, attorney Inbal Rubinstein, calls for parity between the rights of the individual in a criminal proceeding and "the vast power of the state."