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Defense attorneys voice concerns regarding access to clients

Published: Sep. 4, 2020 at 8:29 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Alaska jails have been closed to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic started, that includes attorneys who are no longer able to meet with clients in person. We spoke with defense attorneys around Fairbanks who say they haven’t been able to meet face-to-face with their clients in months.

Robert John is an attorney in Fairbanks, and says that the issue is making sure defendants have quality representation. He says that if they aren’t allowed to meet in person, they can’t go over cases and work on building a defense or making informed legal decisions. Not being able to meet in person raises constitutional concerns regarding the right to assistance of council guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment.

John also spoke about fairness of the process, “It’s got to be a level playing field. If you look at the State, the State doesn’t have any of these encumbrances on it’s ability to deal with its witnesses. It can meet with it’s officers in person, it can interview witnesses. So it’s a matter of being on equal footing and having an even playing field. And it’s an unfairness actually to the defendant and that concerns me actually probably, perhaps most of all is that inability to be on an even footing.”

He said that the courts have worked to update their technology to allow for better phone and even video calls. However, that also raises issues of security and attorney client privilege. John said that there is no way to 100% guarantee that calls aren’t being recorded, and that even if they could guarantee, clients are often apprehensive to speak freely over a call.

In the coming weeks we will continue to explore the issues the COVID-19 virus are causing in the Alaska court system.

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