Indigent Defense Costs in Arizona Up Sharply

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Arizona’s cost of defending crime suspects who couldn't afford to pay for their attorneys rose 45 per cent between 1998 and 2002, says a new report. The Arizona Capitol Times reports that because counties pay the largest share – about 80 per cent – of the costs for legal counsel, rural, less affluent counties are hit particularly hard.

The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission released the report. he total state expenditure for indigent defense rose from $55,353,470 in fiscal 1998 to $80,343,726 in fiscal 2002. A previous study found a 50 per cent rise in the costs of indigent defense between 1989 and 1993.

The report includes anonymous comments from officials at the agencies that submitted the data. One said that a reason for the high cost of indigent defense is that some cases get filed with felony charges, but end with the defendants pleading guilty to misdemeanors. Reimbursement is higher to an attorney for defending a criminal case.

Costs likely will continue rising over the next several years. One factor is the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Ring v. Arizona, which stated that the state's statute allowing judges, rather than juries, to decide certain factors in death penalty cases deprived defendants of their right to trial by juries of their peers. The cases of about two dozen death-row inmates who had been sentenced by judges may have their cases sent back to trial courts for resentencing, and many of those inmates are indigents.


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