Poor people accused of crimes in Michigan generally get poor legal representation, and it could cost the state millions to bring it up to snuff, says a study reported by the Detroit News. “With each passing day, Michigan’s public defense system is crumbling under the strain of tight budgets and under-resourced systems, and Michigan residents are bearing this burden,” said David Carroll of the Washington-based National Legal Aid & Defender Association, which produced the report requested by the legislature two years ago.
Michigan’s spending on public defense ranks 44th among the states. “If Michigan were to spend the national average per capita, it would have to spend roughly $120 million,” Carroll said. The state’s counties, he said, spend about $70 million, leaving “a gap of about $50 million” between what’s spent and what’s needed. Chief Justice Clifford Taylor said “some of the recommendations may not be possible to carry out until the Michigan economy improves.” The report recommends that the state pick up all the costs of defending poor people. Michigan is one of seven states that requires counties to pay the full costs of the system. The report says Michigan spends $7.35 per capita yearly on public defense, ranking 44th in the nation and 38 percent below the $11.86 national average. Alaska has the highest support. It spends $40.96 per resident to represent indigent defendants. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan sued the governor and the state last year for “failing to fulfill their constitutional obligation to provide adequate defense services to those who cannot afford private counsel.”