by Doug Smith
Abdulhakim Muhammad, a defendant in a capital murder case, won an Arkansas Supreme Court decision last year saying that the state would have to pay for a lawyer that had been hired for him. Subsequent indigent defendants will find it harder to do what Muhammad did, if the legislature approves HB 1004 by Rep. John Edwards of Little Rock.
Muhammad is charged in the June 2009 shooting of William Long, a soldier, at a military recruiting station in Little Rock. Rather than being represented by a state-paid public defender, he wanted the Arkansas Public Defender Commission to pay for his retained lawyer. He won before the Supreme Court. The Commission says it will need more money if it has to pay for retained attorneys.
HB 1004 would prohibit state payment of privately retained attorneys for indigents unless the attorneys meet certain requirements to be established by the Public Defender Commission. Edwards said he'd worked closely with the Commission on the bill, which is now in the House Judiciary Committee. Muhammad is still awaiting trial.