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Constitution Hall

Fix Your ‘Failing’ Public Defense System, ACLU Tells Nevada

A class-action lawsuit charging Nevada with violating its constitutional responsibility to ensure all citizens receive equal treatment before the law is aimed at pushing the state to fix its “utterly failing” public defense system, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). It’s the eighth such suit launched by the ACLU against states and counties.

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Indigent Defense Spending Stalled

State government spending on indigent defense steadily dropped from 2008 through 2012, according to a new report by Bureau of Justice Statistics. The report provides a state-by-state breakdown of indigent defense expenditures and legislation, between 2008 and 2012. During that time period, state government indigent defense expenditures decreased at an average rate of 1.1 percent per year. In 2012, state governments spent $2.2 billion nationally on indigent defense, down from its height of $2.4 billion. But researchers note that the […]

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How Poor Is ‘Too Poor’ to Hire a Lawyer?

Nearly one-third of states require potential indigent defendants to pay application fees when requesting counsel, and almost every state requires defendants to either reimburse the state or make a contribution for representation, according to a new report from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). Researchers examined how states decide who is “too poor” to hire a lawyer, as well as potential roadblocks in place that might deter indigent defendants from requesting counsel. Sixteen states require preliminary administrative fees, […]

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Delaware’s Indigent Defense Fails ‘The Vast Majority’

Three years ago, Attorney General Eric Holder called the American Bar Association's (ABA) “Ten Principles” the “basic building blocks of a well-functioning public defense system. In Delaware, “both the primary and conflict indigent defense systems … fail the vast majority of the ABA Ten Principles,” according to a new study by the non-profit Sixth Amendment Center. The 216-page report explores glaring weaknesses in the state's public defender system, with a focus on the pretrial stage. Defendants are initially advised of […]

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A Team Approach to Criminal Defense

As fewer and fewer dollars are spent on indigent defense—and as more and more people charged with a crime qualify for free legal counsel—representing criminal defendants has become increasingly more specialized and complicated. More than a century and a half ago, Abraham Lincoln warned that “a person who represents himself has a fool for a client” (although when Lincoln practiced, most defendants, even those charged with serious criminal offenses, were expected to represent themselves if they could not afford an […]

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When Indigent Defendants Have Mental Health Disorders

A new study is aiming to help develop guidelines and resources for indigent defense attorneys to use when representing clients with mental health disorders. For the two-year study, which began on Jan. 1, researchers from the Vera Institute of Justice are conducting interviews with 250 defendants with mental health disorders and their defenders during jail intake screenings; analyzing criminal justice administrative records describing charges, criminal histories and case outcomes; and analyzing the costs of different indigent defense models. Issues that […]

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Rationing Justice

Attorneys who work indigent defense cases are often paid to little to cover their own overhead costs and often lose money in the process, according to a new study by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). “Rationing Justice,” the first report in a three-part study by the NACDL is a 50-state study of hourly rates paid to private indigent defense attorneys. More than half of all states have maximum compensation fees, according to the study, with no compensation […]

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No Money, No Defense

A half-century after the Supreme Court's historic judgment recognizing every American's right to counsel, the Court is being asked to weigh in on whether there is also a constitutional obligation to ensure that the poorest defendants do not suffer for lack of funds. The case, Boyer v. Louisiana, turns on a defendant's claim that his constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated because the state refused to pay for his defense counsel for five years. The defendant, Jonathan Edward […]