Michigan Indigent Defense Commission-February 2016 Update

The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission met on Tuesday February 16, 2016 in the MIDC Office in Lansing, Michigan.  This was the first of six meetings that will be held by the Commission this year.  At the meeting, the Commission presented to the public its first annual report, the 2015 Impact Report, which describes the full year of activity by the MIDC and its staff, and describes how we are implementing change.  The report is available on the MIDC website at http://michiganidc.gov/policies-and-reports/#tab-id-2.

The first proposed minimum standards for indigent defense delivery systems were submitted to the Michigan Supreme Court on January 4, 2016.  These standards address education and training, the initial client interview, experts and investigators, and counsel at first appearance in front of a judge or magistrate.  On January 11, 2016, the Michigan Supreme Court issued an Administrative Order providing notice and detailing the process for public comment on the standards before the Court takes any further action.  The time to comment expires on May 1, 2016 and a public hearing will be held thereafter.  All comments submitted to the Court will be posted on the Michigan Supreme Court’s website.  Please see additional information about the process and ADM File 2015-27 (“Proposed Minimum Standards for Appointed Counsel” at http://courts.mi.gov/courts/michigansupremecourt/rules/court-rules-admin-matters/pages/administrative-orders.aspx).

In January, six regional consultants began their work as the liaisons between local systems and the MIDC.  The consultants are collaborating with criminal justice stakeholders to design the most appropriate plans for meeting minimum standards for indigent defense in a particular county or system.  The Regional Consultants have been meeting with local practitioners, court administrators, judges and jail administrators to learn about individual court systems and practices, to identify the person(s) responsible for drafting compliance plans, and to determine spending on indigent defense in an effort to estimate grant requests.  The Regional Consultants have already begun talking about potential compliance needs and plans in an effort to ensure a smooth transition to meeting the mandatory minimum standards.  To schedule a meeting with your Regional Consultant, please see the contact information below.

The Executive Director’s Report during the Commission meeting addressed future minimum standards to be considered by the Commission.  The next standards could include independence from the judiciary, caseloads, economic incentives or disincentives to properly represent clients, qualifications and review of assigned counsel, and indigence determinations or eligibility screening for assigned counsel.  These areas are specifically mentioned in the MIDC Act and have been identified as critical areas in surveys of courts and assigned counsel.

The MIDC recently completed an analysis of the first-ever comprehensive survey to measure the delivery of criminal justice for indigent defense reform in Michigan.  The survey gathered details on current practices in the state’s court systems to help MIDC better understand and map the legal landscape for indigent defendants in Michigan.  The survey report was prepared by MIDC Research Director Jonah Siegel, and is entitled Snapshot of Indigent Defense Representation in Michigan’s Adult Criminal Courts: The MIDC’S First Survey of Local Court Systems.  The report can be downloaded for review on the MIDC website at http://michiganidc.gov/policies-and-reports/#tab-id-5.

The MIDC is also interested in learning from practitioners about their assigned cases and how we can work together to improve indigent defense statewide.  The MIDC has recently launched a new survey and is asking that it be completed by all Michigan criminal defense attorneys, even those who do not take assigned cases.  Much like the court system survey, the attorney survey seeks information about continuing legal education requirements, confidentiality of space for attorney client meetings in courts and jails, using experts and investigators in practice, and recommendations for prioritizing the next standards to be proposed by the MIDC.  There is ample space for feedback and suggestions about the next steps that should be taken to improve indigent defense in Michigan.  The survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete and can be found on the MIDC website at http://michiganidc.gov/survey-of-criminal-defense-attorneys-in-michigan/.

The MIDC continues to move forward with plans for system-wide reform and in 2016 will add to the foundation necessary to implement improvement to indigent defense in Michigan.  The Governor released his Executive Recommendation in a presentation to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on February 10, 2016. The Executive Recommendation includes a $1.3 million requested increase to the MIDC’s current appropriation.  Though we are just at the beginning of the appropriations process, it is exciting that this request has been included.

We will continue to post progress about our work and any other developments about indigent defense in Michigan on our website.

by:  Marla McCowan
Director of Training, Outreach and Support
(517) 657-3066

For images associated with this message, please view at: https://slate.adobe.com/a/J6lo9/ and visit our website at: www.michiganidc.gov and follow us on twitter and Instagram @michiganidc.