Indigent Defense System

U.S. Government Accountability Office Issues Report on Federal Funding for Indigent Defense

BY Edwin A. Burnette on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:22 PM

On May 9, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report assessing the ways in which the federal government has provided funding and other federal support to the states for indigent defense for the last seven years.

Gideon Alert: Prof. Lefstein points way to securing reasonable caseloads

BY David Carroll on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 6:12 PM

“Our nation’s public defense systems in state courts, with few exceptions, should be a source of great embarrassment for all of us: judges, bar associations, lawyers, public officials, and all other citizens,” states former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and former United States District Court Judge, William Sessions, in the foreword to Professor Norm Lefstein’s new book, Securing Reasonable Caseloads: Ethics and Law in Public Defense. The source of that embarrassment is the simple fact that, across much of the country, indigent defendants count themselves among one of several hundred who are all vying for the attention of a single lawyer -- a lawyer who lacks the time, resources, and independence to adequately advocate on their behalf.  States neglect to provide any type of meaningful supervision or accountability for the representation provided by these overworked public defense lawyers.  And, far too often these public attorneys are beholden to the trial judge or the county administration for their pay check, creating a direct conflict between the lawyer’s own personal financial well-being and his ethical duty to advocate solely on behalf of his client.  As Judge Sessions notes, “[t]his undisputed and sad state of affairs undermines, indeed vitiates, respect for the rule of law both here at home and abroad and makes a statement to the world about who we are as a people and a society, a statement that we must no longer tolerate.”

Gideon Alert: State-sanctioned commission finds Pennsylvania defaulting on the Sixth Amendment

BY David Carroll on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 2:46 PM

On December 8, 2011, Pennsylvania’s Joint State Government Commission issued its report, A Constitutional Default: Services to Indigent Criminal Defendants in Pennsylvania, concluding that public defense providers labor “under an obsolete, purely localized system,” and that the structure of services “impedes efforts to represent clients effectively.” Echoing the 2003 report of the Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Judicial System, the new report states:

Gideon Alert: Prosecutorial interference in Utah

BY David Carroll on Monday, November 21, 2011 at 3:58 PM

On November 15, 2011, the Emery County Progress reported that the county attorney -- the same office that prosecutes crimes in the county -- not only plays a major role in selecting opposing counsel, but also controls the budget of the local indigent defense system.  Though this column has reported on undue prosecutorial interference in Utah before (click here to read about Utah district attorneys involved in the selection and oversight of public defenders), this is the first documented instance in which there is a direct financial conflict of interest between the two adversarial components of the court system.  

Underrepresentation in Kentucky misdemeanor courts

BY David Carroll on Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 3:34 PM

“An inevitable consequence of volume that large is the almost total preoccupation in such a court with the movement of cases.  The calendar is long, speed often is substituted for care, and casually arranged out-of-court compromise too often is substituted for adjudication.  Inadequate attention tends to be given to the individual defendant, whether, in protecting his rights, sifting the facts at trial, deciding the social risk he presents, or determining how to deal with him after conviction.  The frequent result is futility and failure.” [Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25 (1972), affording the right to counsel to every case with a potential jail sentence.]

Report of the ABA's Bar Information Project's technical assistance to the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, provided by The Spangenberg Group. 

Author/Organization: The Spangenberg Group
Publication Date: 01/1998

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Utah Court finds partially indigent have right to public funds for their defense

BY Jon Mosher on Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 12:21 PM

On October 17, 2011 the Salt Lake Tribune highlighted the potential impact of a recent Utah Supreme Court decision on county indigent defense budgets. In State v. Parduhn, the Court held: “local governments are statutorily required to provide an indigent defendant with funding for a necessary defense resource, even when the defendant is represented by private counsel.” 

Utah court ruling on access to public funds for a partially indigent defendant.

Author/Organization: Utah Supreme Court
Publication Date: 2011

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 Fifteen years after filing a class action lawsuit alleging grossly inadequate and unconstitutional representation for clients of the Allegheny County Office of the Public Defender (“OPD”), the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania released a report today entitled A Job Left Undone: Allegheny County’s Fork in the Road, which describes ongoing, severe systemic problems with the OPD and calls upon county and court leaders and the county executive candidates to make a commitment to fix the agency. The report also reveals that county officials have been aware of the deplorable state of the OPD since at least late 2008, when a secret study they commissioned noted grave concerns about the OPD’s management and operations, yet officials took virtually no action to rectify the problems.

Author/Organization: American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA)
Publication Date: 10/17/2011

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 The criminal justice system in Pennsylvania is finely tuned and balanced and almost always delivers reliable results. However, no such system, much less our own, will achieve perfection in its exercise. Due process does not require that every conceivable step at whatever cost be taken to eliminate the possibility of convicting an innocent person. Even so, the system cannot routinely accept the conviction of an innocent person without being challenged to consider measures to reduce the likelihood of error and grant redress to victims of these errors. Accepting this challenge as fully and as reasonably as we can further strengthens public confidence in the integrity of our criminal investigations and convictions.

Author/Organization: Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission
Publication Date: 09/15/2011

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