A new Minnesota law that requires a co-payment from people who are given a public defender in criminal cases is unconstitutional, a Hennepin County judge ruled, says the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The law fails to give judges discretion to waive the fee when it would impose “a manifest hardship,” District Judge Richard Hopper said yesterday.
Under the statute, a defendant is charged $200 to be defended against a felony, $100 for a gross misdemeanor, and $50 for a misdemeanor.
Public defender Geoffrey Isaacman, who challenged the co-payments on behalf of a Minneapolis woman facing a misdemeanor prostitution charge, said many people “don’t think $50 is a big deal, but for our clients, that can be a lot of what they have…This is literally taking the food out of the mouths of their children.”
Isaacman said the legislature cut $7 million from the public defender’s budget for 2004, expecting it to be made up by co-payments. “That was ridiculously optimistic,” he said.