Yale Murder Case Stirs Debate Over Expert Witness Costs
Simmons, who practices law at the Law Offices of Diane Polan in New Haven, explained that Wang requested funding before Judge Patrick Clifford so that he may retain expert witnesses and an investigator to help his defense and has a constitutional right to do so.
The Office of the Public Defender was asked to provide funding for the witnesses by the judge but declined to do so. Their position is firm, if they're not doing the defense work, they shouldn't have to pay.
Then, in a rare move, Simmons was appointed to present a series of questions, called reservations, to the state Supreme Court justices. These reservations are often not answered by the state Supreme Court. The state's highest court typically waits until a case has been decided at the trial level before getting involved. Any disputes that arise in a case are then usually decided by the appellate courts on appeal.
"Trying to get [the state Supreme Court] to answer the questions is the first step," said Polan, who is not involved in the case. "Some people mistakenly think because the reservation was filed and briefed that the Supreme Court is necessarily going to answer the questions. That's not true."
The only thing that is for certain at this point is that the justices will let them know one way or another in writing. An oral argument before the state's high court is expected to be scheduled for some time in October or November.
The questions for the justices are as follows: Is an indigent defendant who qualifies for public defender services, but has waived his right to counsel, constitutionally entitled to public funds to present witnesses in order to formulate a defense?
If the answer to question one is in the affirmative, does the trial court retain the discretion to grant or deny authorization for public expenditure for any such expert witness based on the trial court's determination as to the relevance of the potential witness' testimony?
And if the answer to question one is in the affirmative, should public funds come from the state of Connecticut's Office of the Public Defender?
And lastly, if the answer to question three is in the negative, should public funds come from the Connecticut Judicial Branch?
Simmons notes in his brief that if these questions are not answered now, they'll essentially be presented on appeal, by one side or another, after the trial, regardless of the verdict.