In July 2018, I wrote a two-part column about a statute called the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission Act.
The purpose of this statute is to ensure that indigent defendants in criminal cases are provided with the effective assistance of competent counsel. The statute provides for a statewide program with one set of rules under the administration of the newly formed Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC).
At the time I wrote the columns, the statute had not been fully implemented although much of the groundwork had already been laid.
Today I am happy to report that the indigent defense program is now in place and almost all courts have state and locally funded appointed attorneys for eligible defendants starting at the arraignment (first appearance on the criminal charges) and for all critical stages thereafter.
A “critical stage” is defined as a step in a criminal proceeding where the absence of counsel may harm the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
As a Genesee County judge, I can tell everyone first hand that our county’s courts started the new indigent defense program last spring and everything is going very well.
We have appointed attorneys at each of our seven district court locations every day that defendants are being arraigned or are present for other criminal matters. For felony cases, this representation continues at the Circuit Court level.
This is a work in progress and everyone involved continues to adapt to the new system. I see that it is effective and continues to improve.
What should also be said is this. There are times when one hears that a defendant has a “court appointed attorney” and is therefore at a disadvantage in their criminal defense.
In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.
What I constantly see from the appointed attorneys is the highest level of dedication and competence, which everybody can be proud of.
To be an appointed attorney there are a number of requirements including continuing legal education and training. It is not easy. Few people know the time and energy the attorneys spend on their cases.
This has all been a mammoth undertaking. For those interested, there is a full history and many more details at the MIDC website michiganidc.gov.