Michigan Indigent Defense Commission June 2016

The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission is pleased to report that the Michigan Supreme Court has conditionally approved the first set of standards for indigent defense delivery systems in Michigan.  This conditional approval comes after a public hearing on the standards that was held on May 18, 2016.  At that hearing, the Court heard comments from multiple members of the Commission, the Commission’s Executive Director, and several stakeholders in the criminal justice community.  More than twenty five written comments were submitted to the Michigan Supreme Court since the standards were posted on January 11, 2016.  The majority of comments expressed strong support for the first standards proposed by the Commission.

According to the Court’s Order, the approval is conditioned upon revisions to the MIDC Act by the end of this calendar year to address provisions of uncertain constitutionality. These provisions include the placement of the MIDC within the judicial branch of government, and the enforcement and regulatory implications from the implementation of standards otherwise within the control of the judiciary.  The MIDC plans to work quickly with the legislature to address the Court’s concerns and with trial court systems and State Court Administrative Office Regional Administrators as they submit compliance plans to meet the minimum standards.

The initial standards address some of the major problems Michigan faces in the delivery of adequate indigent defense systems:  training and education of counsel, the initial client interview, use of investigation and experts, and counsel at first appearance and other critical stages.  The full text of the standards conditionally approved by the Supreme Court can be found on the MIDC’s website at http://michiganidc.gov/standards/.

The MIDC contracted with Regional Consultants last January to begin working with courts and criminal defense attorneys in an effort to identify preliminary compliance and potential needs in communities across the state of Michigan.  The Regional Consultants will continue to serve in this role as compliance plans are developed by indigent defense delivery systems for submission to the Commission.  Each local system, working together with the State Court Administrative Office, will submit its compliance plan to the MIDC and the agency will work with the legislature to secure funding for those plans.

In April 2016, the MIDC began drafting the next set of standards for indigent defense delivery in Michigan. The next standards will address financial incentives and disincentives in compensating assigned counsel, caseload capacities, qualification and review of attorneys eligible for assignments, and independence from the judiciary.  Like the first standards, these requirements are derived from the MIDC Act, constitutional principles, or nationally accepted models for delivering public defense services.  The process for proposing the standards will begin through drafts created by MIDC Committees and will be circulated among the Commission as a whole during meetings throughout the year.  The MIDC Act requires a public hearing prior to submitting the standards to the Michigan Supreme Court.  The MIDC is committed to being as transparent as possible in this process and encourages feedback from all members of the criminal justice community.

Information about all upcoming meetings and minutes from prior meetings can be found on our website at http://michiganidc.gov/michigan-indigent-defense-commission/commission-meetings/.  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