St. Joseph Michigan Criminal Defense Blog

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Michigan’s public defense system
Michigan’s public defense system is disjointed and, by all accounts, broken. With no state supervision the quality of representation received varies widely from county to county. In 2008 the National Legal Aid and Defender Association called Michigan’s system a constitutional crisis. But a recent vote in Lansing assured that the state’s public defense is slowly but surely on the mend.

Governor Snyder will likely sign House Bill 4529, the Michigan indigent defense commission act, into law in early July. The act creates a new Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) that will oversee the state’s 165 county public defense systems. The 15 member panel will create best practices and minimum mandatory standards that each county’s system will have to meet.

But they will have plenty of time to gear up for it. There is no deadline for the MIDC to create its minimum standards. Once it does those rules will be submitted to the Supreme Court for approval within 120 days (4 months). Then each county will have 60 days (2 months) to come up with a plan to meet the standards, which the MIDC has to approve within another 60 days. If it disapproves the plan the county has 30 days (1 month) to submit a new plan for approval. This can happen up to 3 times. That means even once the MIDC decides its minimum standards, public defender systems will likely have half a year before they even begin to change their procedures.

The reason for the delay? Money. Each county is only required to put the same amount into meeting the MIDC’s minimum standards each year as they put into their unregulated systems the year before the standards are approved. Any excess cost has to be approved by MIDC. Then the local systems can receive grants from any source including state appropriations through MIDC to make up the difference. These appropriations take time and are likely the reason for the long deadlines in the act.

For the average defendant, nothing will change for at least 6 months. Then slowly the systems will adapt. Defendants will be screened for financial need by their first court hearing at the latest. They will have a single attorney assigned to their case rather than their courtroom, and their attorney will have fewer cases and more time (and eventually space) to work with them. Together with additional lawyer training, this should ensure better representation for those that qualify as indigent, eventually.

*Please note: Every case is different, and there may be some aspect of your particular cas which may result in an outsome other than is descriged above. This post is not intended as legal advice and may not apply to your particular case. It is always best to contact our office for a consultation if you have been or believe you may be charged with a crime.

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