Alaska Public Defenders file motion to permit in-person visitation with client

Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 4:52 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -Since the end of March, correctional centers around Alaska have been closed to in-person visitation in an effort to protect staff and inmates from COVID-19. The ban has included defense attorneys meeting in-person with their clients who are incarcerated. Now, the Alaska Public Defenders' office has filed a motion to permit in-person visitation with a client in Fairbanks.

According to a 10-page motion filed in Fairbanks Superior Court, “Due process guarantees a criminal defendant the right to prepare and present a defense, and this due process right encompasses the separate constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel.” They claim this right is violated by the rule banning in-person visitation.

The case regards a client who is hard of hearing and according to the motion, did not even know his attorney’s name, even though he had spoken with the attorney on the phone. The motion claims that: the state cannot show that the bar on in-person visitation will prevent the introduction of COVID-19 into Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities, the state cannot show that letting their client and his attorney meet will undermine its goal of protecting the health of the DOC, and that in-person visitation is necessary for the defendant to receive effective assistance of council.

According to the motion, the filers recognize the need for safety measures but assert that safety can be maintained while still allowing attorneys and clients to exercise their rights and prepare and present a defense.

“An in-person meeting with a client, or probably many over the course of representation, is critical. It’s critical to building trust with the client, it’s critical in building an attorney-client relationship and it’s critical to effectively communicate with a client," said Ben Muse, a deputy director for the Alaska Public Defenders.

Muse said that as of now the DOC has not even given a potential date to resume in-person visitation but they have made some changes to video conferencing availability. According to his research, Alaska is one of the few states that is not allowing attorneys and clients to meet.

Muse also stated that if the motion is granted it will only apply to the one client and will probably not impact other in-person visitations.

We reached out to the Department of Corrections for comment on the matter but as of publishing time had not heard back.

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