Gideon Alert: Good news round-up

BY David Carroll on Wednesday, March 24, 2010 at 1:29 PM

Gideon Alerts is committed to not only highlighting the ongoing problems in indigent defense, but also to reporting advances in the improvement of indigent defense systems.  It has been a busy and successful past few days for the right to counsel in America.

Alabama:  Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb returned from the Department of Justice Indigent Defense Symposium ready to tackle indigent defense in her state.  The Lagniappe published its third installment in their spotlight series, this time focusing on the introduction of new legislation at the bequest of the Chief Justice to create a statewide indigent defense commission. 

New York:  New York's highest Court heard oral arguments on March 23, 2010 on that state's failing indigent defense system, in the New York Civil Liberties Union class action lawsuit. 

The New York Law Journal published a great article discussing caseload controls.  They refer to both The Constitution Project national right to counsel report Justice Denied and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers report Minor Crimes, Massive Waste.

Michigan:  The deans of Michigan State University Law School, Law School at University of Michigan, and Wayne State University Law School have joined the call for the reform of Michigan's indigent defense system, in this op-ed from the Lansing State Journal.  For a good update on the reform process in Michigan, see this story from the Record-Eagle.

Idaho:  Chief Justice Daniel Eismann also returned from the DOJ Symposium committed to the improvement of indigent defense services in his state.  On March 19, 2010, the Idaho Criminal Justice Committee met, under his leadership, to begin the difficult task of creating a statewide indigent defense system.  A sub-committee was appointed to study models in neighboring states and to draft legislation for consideration by the full committee.

Nevada:  Also on March 19, 2010, the Nevada Supreme Court Indigent Defense Commission, under the leadership of Justice Michael Cherry, met again to discuss the critical need for uniform data in advance of setting binding caseload caps.  Across Nevada -- indeed throughout the country -- jurisdictions employ varying methods of counting indigent defense cases.  Some count charges, some defendants, some prosecutorial charging instruments, and many simply do not count indigent defense cases at all.

The Commission agreed to establish a uniform definition of a case.  Though that may not be the most glamorous act, it is absolutely critical on the path toward moving the right to counsel forward in this county.  It would be great if there were a single national standard by which all states submit uniform indigent defense statistics to a national repository.

The Conference of State Court Administrators and the National Center for State Courts first established a uniform definition of a case in their 1989 publication State Court Model Statistical Dictionary.  There at page 19 they instruct administrators to "[c]ount each defendant and all charges involved in a single incident as a single case."  This definition has become the standard used in all case-weighting studies, including those conducted by the National District Attorneys Association, American Prosecutor Research Institute for district attorney workload, and by the National Center for State Courts for judicial case-weighting studies.  it is also the definition of a "case" used in developing the NAC public defender caseload standards.