Indigent Defense Bill Introduced

In this year of partisan bickering, it is rare to see both party’s agree to anything. A rarely-seen majority of Michigan House Representatives from both sides of the aisle introduced sweeping reform legislation on August 15, 2012, to transform the state’s broken and underfunded indigent defense system. This bill focuses on trial level representation. (Juvenileand appellate representation are not part of it). HB 5804 was co-sponsored by 38 Republicans and 37 Democrats. State Representative Tom McMillin (R – District 45) which tracks the Governor’s recommendation. For more information, click here.

Attorney General Holder Supports Greater Funding of Indigent Counsel: Cites Michigan as an Example of a State in Need

Michigan appointed counsel have been fighting for greater funding of indigent cases. They have both filed a suit challenging the lack of funding and started a lobbying initiative for increased funding. On Tuesday, they received the support of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. In a speech to Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, Attorney General Holder supported the Brennan Center's work to increase funding and access to counsel in several states including Michigan. The Attorney General then spoke of the delay in appointing counsel in many jurisdiction, and that when counsel was appointed, that counsel was often not meaningful. The Attorney General blasted county funded systems as creating radically different systems of justice based on which side of a county line a crime was committed, he was particularly critical of flat fee funding systems that paid counsel the same regardless of the amount of work that was done, and, lastly he called underfunded systems penny wise and pound foolish. A bill is currently pending in the Michigan Legislature to create a state wide trial defender network modeled after SADO. Hopefully the Legislature listens to the Attorney General's advice. You can read the entire speech here.

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COA Sets Forth the Due Process Defendant Must Be Given When County Seeks Reimbursement for Court Appointed Counsel

Overwhelmingly, criminal defendants are represented by court appointed counsel. Many counties have sought reimbursement for such fees. Three years ago, the Michigan Legislature codified this practice with MCL 769.1k which provided that after conviction, the Court may make the Defendant pay for any costs or the expenses associated with the defendant’s legal representation.

In
People v Trapp, Court of Appeals No. 282662, the Court of Appeals answered the question about what a court is supposed to do when the Defendant claims that he does not have the means to pay this fee.

In Trapp, on request the Court ruled that the Court must look at the Defendant’s ability to pay. Unfortunately, the Court ruled in the last paragraph that a hearing was not required and the Court could rely on an updated presentence report.

Trapp is disturbing because most countries do not disclose the presentence report until moments before sentencing. Trapp is yet another reason why Michigan should adopt the federal practice of providing the reports to counsel ten days before sentencing and allowing counsel the opportunity to file written objections to the reports.

The other item which went undiscussed in Trapp is the fact that the parties were talking about $300. It will probably costs Berrien County thousands to collect this paltry sum.