The State of Michigan has abdicated its constitutional responsibility to provide indigent defendants with public defense counsel. The State provides no administrative oversight or funding for public defense at the trial level. There is no training for public defense attorneys, no performance standards to govern their practice, and no review of their performance. They have too many cases and insufficient resources to hire outside investigators or experts.
Many of Michigan’s counties have been dramatically under-funding indigent defense for years. In 2007, the ACLU, Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, and Frank D. Eaman PLLC filed a class action lawsuit against the State and Governor of Michigan alleging that indigent defense programs in three counties were failing to provide constitutionally adequate legal representation to those who cannot afford private counsel. At the same time, the ACLU launched the Michigan Campaign for Justice, a non-profit corporation dedicated to reforming Michigan’s many indigent defense systems. The coalition charges that Michigan has long abdicated its duty to ensure that poor people accused of crimes receive timely, qualified and appropriately resourced lawyers for their defense.
On April 30, 2010, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the Michigan Court of Appeals on the denial of Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiffs are now back in trial court to certify the class.
“Putting politics aside, we must address the fact that, simply put, there is a crisis in indigent defense in this country.” – Attorney General Eric Holder
On Monday, December 14, 2009, there were two events on public defense reform both at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Congressman John Conyers convened a U.S. House Judiciary Committee Briefing on Solutions to the Indigent Defense Crisis in the morning. The Michigan House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on public defense reform legislation, House Bill 5676, introduced by Representatives Amash (R-72) and Constan (D-16) on December 9, 2009, to reform the provision of indigent defense in Michigan. Read testimony given by the Racial Justice Program’s Robin Dahlberg >>