The President’s proposed budget for FY 2014 recommends $1.068 billion for defender services, the account that funds the operation of the federal public defender and community defender organizations, and compensation, reimbursements, and expenses of private panel attorneys appointed by federal courts to serve as defense counsel to indigent individuals. The program is largely reactive – it has no control over the number and nature of cases it must defend against. The caseload is driven entirely by the prosecutorial policies and practices of the U. S. department of Justice and its 93 United States Attorneys. Funding for FY 2013 was continued at the FY 2012 level of $1.031 billion under successive continuing resolutions that were enacted to fund federal programs through September 2013, as Congress was unable to finalize a regular appropriations process for the current year. The Judiciary has requested a 3.0 percent increase to $1.07 billion for FY 2014 for defender services, bases on an increase in caseload to handle an estimated 209,000 representations. The request provides a small cost-of-living adjustment to the panel attorney non-capital rate (from $125 to $126 per hour) and capital rate (from $178 to $180 per hour). The request includes no program increases.
Defender services like other discretionary federal spending programs were subject to sequestration cuts. The sequestration cut for FY 2013 is 5.0 percent of total authorized spending, amounting to $52 million. Between October 2012 and April 2013, Federal Defender Organizations (FDO) downsized by 113 employees and other employees were furloughed. Absent supplemental funding, the Judiciary will need to suspend payments to private panel attorneys for the last 15 business days (3 weeks) of the fiscal year and F DOs will need to further reduce costs through staffing cuts and by furloughing employees for a national average of approximately 15 days for the remainder of the fiscal year. If sequestration cuts for FY 2014 go into effect, further staffing cuts and furloughs averaging 30 business days will likely result next year.
The Judicial Conference of the United States wrote to appropriators in May 2013 to request a supplemental emergency appropriation of $41.4 million for the remainder of FY 2013 noting that further FDO cuts and the suspension of panel attorney payments will create the real possibility that panel attorneys may decline to accept Criminal Justice Act appointments in cases that would otherwise have been represented by FDOs. Delays in the cases moving forward may result in violations of constitutional and statutory speedy trial mandates resulting in criminal cases being dismissed.