A bill that addresses sweeping problems in the state’s indigent defense system has cleared the House Judiciary Committee.
HB 5804, would establish the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission Act and create a comprehensive approach to providing constitutionally effective assistance of counsel to indigent criminal defendants.
The legislation creates the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC). The 14-member board would consist of 13 individuals appointed by the governor from nominations submitted by legislative leaders, the State Bar of Michigan, the Criminal Defense Attorney Association of Michigan, bar associations representing minority interests, judges’ associations and the chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, who would also serve as the commission’s 14th member.
Among the bill’s key features:
- Delivery of indigent criminal trial defense services (includes selection, funding, and payment of defense counsel) independent of the judiciary yet ensuring that judges are permitted and encouraged to contribute information and advice concerning the delivery of indigent criminal trial defense services.
- Active participation of other members of the Bar with an indigent criminal defender office when indigent criminal trial defense services caseloads are sufficiently high.
- Screening indigent adults for eligibility and assigning counsel as soon as feasible after formal charges are filed.
HB 5804 aims to:
- provide defense counsel with sufficient time and space where confidentiality is safeguarded for meetings with clients; control workload to permit high-quality representation;
- match the defense counsel’s ability, training, and experience with the nature and complexity of cases to which he or she is appointed;
- have the same defense counsel continuously represent the client, with some exceptions, at every court appearance throughout the pendency of the case;
- provide with and require defense counsel to attend relevant continuing legal education; and
- [provide for] the systematical review of defense counsel for quality and efficiency of representation according to MIDC standards.
The measure now moves to the full House for further consideration.