NLADA’s Justice Standards, Evaluation & Research Initiative (JSERI) evaluations have served as an impetus for a number of jurisdictions, including Louisiana and Michigan. to move toward establishing constitutionally effective indigent defense systems. JSERI conducts a comprehensive review of every aspect of an indigent defense system. National standards, the U.S. Constitution and cases interpreting it, and a state’s constitution, laws, and regulations together make up the yardstick against which a jurisdiction’s system is measured.
The American Bar Association's Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System is the most widely accepted and used compilation of national standards for systems to provide public defense services. In the words of the ABA, the Ten Principles "constitute the fundamental criteria to be met for a public defense delivery system to deliver effective and efficient, high quality, ethical, conflict-free representation to accused persons who cannot afford to hire an attorney."
On January 27, 2010, NLADA publicly released its report, The Guarantee of Counsel: Advocacy & Due Process in Idaho’s Trial Courts. The report finds that the state of Idaho fails to provide the level of representation required by our Constitution for those who cannot afford counsel in its criminal and juvenile courts. Idaho has sewn a patchwork quilt of under-funded, inconsistent systems that vary greatly in defining who qualifies for services and in the level of competency of the services rendered. While there are some admirable qualities in some of the county indigent defense services, NLADA finds that none of the public defense systems in the sample counties are constitutionally adequate.
On June 17, 2010, NLADA released Effective Assistance of Counsel: Implementing the Louisiana Public Defender Act of 2007, a report concluding that the Louisiana Public Defender Act of 2007 has yet to take root in Louisiana’s 15th Judicial District.
The Louisiana legislature passed the Louisiana Public Defender Act of 2007 (“Act 307”) on a bipartisan and overwhelming vote, with the expressed intent of ensuring that “all indigent criminal defendants who are eligible to have appointed counsel at public expense receive effective assistance of counsel at each critical stage of the proceeding” and “that the right to counsel is delivered by qualified and competent counsel in a manner that is fair and consistent throughout the state.”
On June 18, 2008, NLADA released its report, A Race to the Bottom: Speed and Savings over Due Process: A Constitutional Crisis, which found that the state of Michigan fails to provide competent representation to those who cannot afford counsel in its criminal courts. The state of Michigan’s failure to fulfill its constitutional obligations has produced myriad county public defense systems that vary greatly in defining who qualifies for services and the competency of the services rendered. Michigan ranks 44th in the nation for per capita public defense spending ($7.35), behind such states as Alabama and Georgia.
JSERI Technical Assistance
In August of 2009, the Maryland state public defender was fired. She served at the pleasure of a three-person board, and each of those three people were appointed to the board directly by the Governor. After months of disagreement between the public defender and the board, they fired her on a 2-1 vote after she refused to implement cuts and reorganization demanded by the board that included increasing the caseload of staff public defenders, disbanding the capital defense and juvenile protection divisions, closing a community-oriented defender office in Baltimore, and firing an African-American division chief.
All who work in public defense know there is a problem -- we call it the "indigent defense crisis." In 2002, NLADA established the Justice Standards, Evaluation and Research Initiative (JSERI) in order to concretely evaluate the depth and breadth of both successes and difficulties in indigent defense representation throughout the country, providing a measurement of public defense services against national standards. JSERI's protocol for evaluation of any system combines a review of the jurisdiction's budgetary, caseload, and organizational information with site visits to observe courtroom practice and interviews of all key criminal justice system stakeholders and policymakers.
In March of 2007, the Las Vegas Review-Journal began running a spotlight series entitled "Conflicted Justice" on the continuing problems of indigent defense in the state of Nevada. In large part as a result of those articles, the Nevada Supreme Court formed an indigent defense task force, later named the Commission on Indigent Defense.