First line of Constitutional defense

By Frank Lewis -

You have most likely at one time or another looked at a defendant in a criminal case and wondered what kind of person would defend them in court. Portsmouth Attorney Gene Meadows is the guy who defends that guy.

“A defense lawyer is the first line of defense for the Constitution,” Meadows told The Daily Times. “The Constitution of the United States guarantees rights, there’s a whole list of them. If you don’t have that criminal defense lawyer sitting there looking over the case, saying, ‘Hey Mr. prosecutor, this violates the Constitution,’ then you would have a police officer walking in every door because they can and there would be nothing to stop them.”

Meadows is familiar with major crime cases up to and including capital murder. In fact, there is a specific qualification required to be court-appointed to such cases.

“Any attorney can be hired to handle those cases,” Meadows said. “The difference is – court-appointed. If you’re court-appointed, you have to have specific training and be approved by the Supreme Court under what’s called Rule 20 of the Rules of Court, and that lays out the guidelines that you have to have to be certified to practice in death penalty cases.”

Capital cases require two attorney’s – the lead attorney and co-counsel.

“The lead attorney has to have more qualifications than the co-counsel does,” Meadows said.

Meadows said the hourly rate paid by the county to the court-appointed attorney does not go up in a capital case.

“However, the amount of hours that you put into the case will change,” Meadows said. “You then have to look for your mitigation experts, so you’ve got more experts and, of course, you have an investigator, so the amount spent on the case.”

He said the typical felony trial requires approximately 100 hours of preparation time. The more serious level felonies take between 100 and 150 hours. When you step up to murder cases, the time spent expands between 125 and 175 hours. That number jumps to around 150-200 hours for an aggravated murder. Capital murder can get into 250 hours and up.

Meadows was certified to co-counsel capital cases in the 90s. He spent some timeout of criminal law, then got his certification again in 2010. He said there is no test involved.

“You have to take the specific seminar for capital cases, which is 12 hours,” Meadows said. “You have to have that every two years. There’s plenty of opportunity to take it. You have to have so many years as an attorney, then you have to have so much trial experience to obtain those certifications from the Supreme Court.”

There are certain specifications that must be met in order to bring the death penalty into an aggravated murder case.

“Breaking into someone’s home, committing a murder while you’re burglarizing their home. The same thing, when you’re robbing a store and commit a murder, kidnapping, rape, something to add to just a murder charge,” Meadows said. There are provisions in there that allow multiple murders to be elevated to a capital case.”

A memo came out on July 22, 2016, from the Public Defenders Commission of Ohio which mandates the Commission establish rules for the conduct of county public defender offices and appointed counsel systems, including standards of indigence, standards for the qualifications, training, and size of the legal and supporting staff, facilities, and other requirements needed to maintain and operate a public defender office; minimum caseload standards; and minimum qualifications of appointed counsel.

“If a person is indigent and they are appointed counsel, the judge can appoint anybody he wants to, but the state is looking out to be more specific on who is eligible for reimbursement,” Meadows said. “That’s based on the attorney’s qualifications. To do appeals, you have to have so much experience in appelate work and you have to have so much training. You have to have six hours of continuing training to do appeals and for the county to be reimbursed on it.”

Meadows said attorney’s have to have experience with jury trials in order to be appointed and for the state to reimburse the county.

‘The state reimburses the county’s portion of what’s paid on indigent defense,” Meadows said. “That is what the state is trying to get under control.”

In “The Role of the defense attorney: Not Just an Advocate,” Roberta K. Flowers said – “A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.”

Meadows takes that definition seriously and loves his job. His alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. and he hits the floor running because he knows there is something different and special about every case which is why he can’t wait to get to court.

“A defense lawyer is vital to the United States Constitution,” Meadows said. “Everybody is guaranteed a defense. They’re guaranteed competent legal representation. I believe in that principle. I believe in that Constitution and that’s my part to help this country grow and move forward for the Constitution to be protected by protecting the rights of that one individual who is charged with a crime. No matter how serious the crime is, he’s entitled to a defense and he’s entitled to competent representation.”

By Frank Lewis

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.