The Constitutional right to an attorney in a criminal case has long been one of the hallmarks of our American justice system. A number of defendants can retain an attorney and they are represented at all critical stages of a criminal proceeding until their case is concluded.
However, there are a number of individual defendants who meet the standards of indigency, of not being able to afford to retain an attorney and for these individuals the law provides for appointment of a lawyer at public expense.
Historically in Michigan, there has been a fairly wide county-by-county variance in both spending levels for indigent defense attorneys and appointment plans. For example according to the Michigan House Fiscal Agency, estimates have placed the statewide three year average of per capita spending at $7.38 with spending amounts for individual counties varying from a low of $2.56 per capita to a high of $17.01 per capita.
In an attempt to address this issue in a more uniform way, House Bill 5804 was introduced on Aug. 15, 2012 in the State House with bipartisan support. The House Judiciary Committee summarized the contents of the Bill as follows:
‘The bill would create the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission Act to create the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission, provide for its duties and powers, provide for constitutionally effective assistance of counsel to represent indigent defendants in criminal cases, provide standards for the appointment of legal counsel, and provide funding for certain functions of the MIDC and to implement the standards in courts around the state. The bill specifies that nothing in the bill should be construed to overrule, expand, or extend, either directly or by analogy, the decision reached by the U.S. Supreme Court in Strickland v Washington, 466 US 688 (1984), or its progeny in the Michigan Supreme Court.’
The Bill has a number of supporters including the Michigan Supreme Court.
As is always the case we will have to wait to see what happens. The full report from the Judiciary Committee is available on the Michigan House website.