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Criminal Justice Magazine
Winter 2002
Volume 18 Issue 1

Indigent Defense

Terry Brooks and Shubhangi Deoras

Terry Brooks is staff counsel for the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense. Shubhangi Deoras is assistant committee counsel. Both are contributing editors to Criminal Justice magazine.

2001 State Roundup

There were a number of positive developments for state indigent defense systems during 2001. This column provides a year-end recap of significant indigent defense changes—budget increases, systemic improvements, and grant assistance to foster systemic improvements.

Budget increases

A number of state legislatures increased appropriations for indigent defense in 2001.

Georgia: The Georgia Indigent Defense Council received a $500,000 increase in funding for its grants to counties program, $238,000 for a new improvement grant program, and an increase of approximately $30,000 for its capital case office.

Minnesota: The Minnesota Board of Public Defense received $225,000 from the state legislature for a project to connect to the state’s new criminal justice information system. In addition, it received a $10 million biannual budget increase.

New Hampshire: The public defender’s office in New Hampshire received funding to hire three new public defenders.

Colorado: The state increased its budget for indigent defense by 7.45 percent.

Connecticut: The Connecticut Division of Public Defender Services received an 8.65 percent increase in its budget.

Maryland: The Office of Public Defender received a budget increase of 12.8 percent.

New Mexico: The state’s Public Defender Department received a 5.76 percent budget increase, which will go toward increasing staff salaries, funding additional contract attorneys, funding a case management system, and funding representation in death penalty habeas corpus proceedings.

North Dakota: The state increased its appropriations for indigent defense by 17 percent.

Rhode Island: The state’s Office of the Public Defender received a 5 percent increase.

South Dakota: The state increased indigent defense appropriations by 13.6 percent.

Wyoming: The state increased its state public defender’s budget by $563,577 to fund staff salaries.

Systemic improvements

Texas: The state overhauled its indigent defense system with the passage of the Fair Defense Act. Effective on January 1, 2002, the Fair Defense Act creates a new statewide task force charged with developing uniform standards and guidelines for indigent defense systems in all 254 counties in Texas. It also provides, for the first time, state funding for indigent defense in Texas through the establishment of a self-perpetuating Fair Defense Fund, providing $19 million for the next biennium and generating $12 million every year thereafter. The new state funding will supplement existing county funding and will be granted by the statewide task force to counties that comply with minimum standards contained in the statute and any additional standards promulgated by the task force in the future. The statute also establishes mandatory timelines for the appointment of counsel throughout the state.

Oregon: The state legislature created the Public Defense Services Commission, a new statewide indigent defense commission that will be independent from the judicial branch of state government. The establishment of the Public Defense Services Commission ameliorates the current situation in which the state’s public defense system and its court system are pitted against each other in competition for funding and staffing. Under the new legislation, the Public Defense Services Commission will eventually assume responsibility for overseeing the administration of all state-funded public defense services at the trial and appellate levels.

Nebraska: The state established a new Indigent Defense Standards Council to create standards for all types of indigent defense delivery systems and cases. Counties complying with these standards will be eligible for reimbursement by the state of up to 25 percent of the cost of providing felony representation.

Massachusetts: The state adopted standards applicable to the state’s drug courts.

Montana: The state adopted standards for counsel in capital cases at trial, appeal, and post-conviction.

Tennessee: The state revised its standards for capital defense counsel to include forensic and DNA training as a factor in determining attorney qualification.

Several states changed their policies regarding salaries for public defenders or compensation rates for assigned counsel.

Arkansas: The authority to set assigned counsel rates shifted from the appointing court to the Public Defender Commission.

Illinois: The legislature passed a bill requiring the state to pay two-thirds of the salary of county public defenders. The bill mandates that counties with a population over 30,000 must have full-time public defenders and all full-time public defenders must receive an annual salary equivalent to at least 90 percent of the annual salary of that county’s prosecutor.

Florida: The state passed a bill mandating a starting annual salary of $35,900 for all entry-level public defenders; prior to this bill, elected public defenders had discretion in setting starting salaries in their circuits.

Indiana: The state increased the hourly rates for assigned counsel in capital cases from $70 to $90 per hour.

Oklahoma: The state passed a bill requiring salary parity for public defenders and prosecutors.

A number of states established additional public defender offices in 2001 to handle specific types of cases.

Louisiana: The Louisiana Indigent Defense Assistance Board created a Capital Appeals Program to provide representation for all direct appeals in capital cases.

Vermont: The state approved funding for three new conflict units throughout the state.

Kansas: The State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services established a separate office to provide appellate representation in death penalty cases.

Grants for systemic improvements

Recently, the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID) awarded catalyst grants in an effort to foster improvements in three states—Michigan, Louisiana, and Mississippi—that traditionally have not experienced the type of indigent defense successes described above. The catalyst grants were awarded through a new program called the ABA Gideon Initiative, which is supported by a grant from the Program on Law & Society of the Open Society Institute.

Michigan: SCLAID awarded a grant to the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD) for a project to improve the quality, cost effectiveness, and accountability of representation for defendants throughout Michigan. Through its Improving Defense Services in Michigan project, MCCD will coordinate and staff a task force composed primarily of non-defense attorney groups, which will be charged with developing (1) a plan for a model public defense system in Michigan, (2) an extensive public education strategy directed at state and local officials, key stakeholders, and the public at large, and (3) an advocacy strategy for implementing the plan.

Louisiana: SCLAID also awarded a grant to the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) for a multipronged initiative to increase resources for and improve the quality of indigent defense services for adults and juveniles. Through the Louisiana Indigent Defense Initiative, JJPL and its partner, the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center (LCAC), will build a broad-based coalition of stakeholders to educate, through a media and public relations campaign, key legislators/policy-makers and the public at large regarding the serious problems in the state’s juvenile justice system. Additionally, JJPL will develop and seek adoption of a training curriculum and best practices standards for juvenile defenders in Louisiana, while LCAC will conduct studies of both juvenile and adult public defender caseloads and resources in four sample parishes throughout the state.

Mississippi: Lastly, to foster systemic improvements in Mississippi, SCLAID has awarded a grant to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). Through the Mississippi Gideon Enforcement Project, LDF and its partner, Southern Echo, Inc., will engage in research and public education efforts to bolster the on-going efforts of a broad coalition to secure a state-funded indigent defense system.

Overall, the year 2001 has brought tremendous gains with respect to indigent defense systems in many states. Newly funded efforts in Michigan, Louisiana, and Mississippi hold the promise of realizing additional gains in the years to come. For more information on any of the changes described above, or to request technical assistance regarding indigent defense systems, please contact Shubhangi Deoras, SCLAID assistant committee counsel, at deorass@staff.abanet.org .


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