Reforms to indigent defense in Michigan

LANSING, Mich. - Gov. Rick Snyder today signed legislation to bring sweeping reforms
and improvements to indigent defense in Michigan, helping protect every citizen's
right to competent legal representation in criminal defense cases.

The legislation will enable and set statewide standards and accountability measures
for public defense attorneys representing indigent criminal defendants and create a
uniform process to verify that all 83 counties meet the standards.

"Every citizen has a right to competent legal counsel, regardless of the ability to
pay.  That is the meaning of 'justice for all.' For too long in Michigan, many
indigent defendants have not received the level of legal representation that they
deserve," Snyder said. "Today, we're taking action to fix that problem and improve
the state's public defense system, upholding our Constitutional responsibility to
the accused and their families and ensuring justice and public safety as well
accountability to taxpayers."

House Bill 4529, now Public Act 93 of 2013, sponsored by state Rep. Tom McMillan,
creates the commission. It will be housed within the judicial branch of state
government and comprised of 15 members appointed by the governor with recommendation
of the Legislature, Supreme Court, the state bar, and representing interests from
the criminal justice system. The chief justice or a designee would also serve as an
ex-officio non-voting member.

The commission will be charged with:

*         Collecting and compiling data necessary for the review of indigent defense
services in Michigan;

*         Creating standards to ensure all systems providing indigent defense meet
constitutional obligations for effective assistance of counsel;

*         Submitting for approval any new standards to the Michigan Supreme Court,
creating an added layer of review;

*         Developing requirements by which a person may establish a claim of
indigence so those truly in need of a public defender will have access to one; and

*         Working with counties to implement plans to meet the standards.

"Serious problems have plagued Michigan's indigent defense system for many years,
wasting tax dollars, threatening public safety, stealing years of freedom from
peoples' lives and compromising every citizen's constitutional rights," said Marcela
Westrate, executive director of the Michigan Campaign for Justice, a non-partisan
coalition of groups that has worked to reform indigent defense services in Michigan.
"Now, with the Governor's signature, Michigan's new permanent Indigent Defense
Commission can begin its critically important work making our system more
transparent, accountable, efficient and, most importantly, constitutional."

Senate Bill 301, sponsored by state Sen. Bruce Caswell, revises existing law that
requires a court to assign counsel to an indigent person charged with a criminal
offense to conform to HB 4529. It is now PA 94.

In 2011, Snyder issued an executive
order<,4668,7-277-57577-264039--,00.html#print> that
established a 14-member Defense Advisory Commission to examine how to improve legal
representation provided to low-income criminal defendants in Michigan. The governor
renewed his call to reform indigent defense in a March 2012 special message on
public safety<>.

The commission formed under EO
2011-12<> made its
recommendations in June 2012, calling for today's changes to the state's indigent
defense system.

Visit for more information on these bills.