Lansing, Michigan - Michigan ranks 44th in the nation for public defense spending, behind Alabama and Georgia, spending only $7.35 per capita, according to a report released today by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA).
"A Race to the Bottom: Speed and Savings Over Due Process: A Constitutional Crisis" also found that residents are routinely tried in district courts without access to any legal counsel whatsoever, calling into question the reliability of Michigan's criminal justice system. NLADA is asking state lawmakers to take ownership of this problem and immediately address funding and administrative deficiencies. The Senate and the House are scheduled to hold briefings on the report today and tomorrow.
"With each passing day, Michigan's public defense system is crumbling under the strain of tight budgets and under-resourced systems, and Michigan residents are bearing this burden," said David Carroll, research director for NLADA. "By forcing counties to pay for and administer the public defender system, the state has wasted taxpayer money and increased the likelihood of wrongful convictions and lawsuits. The time is now for Michigan lawmakers to right this wrong."
In addition to fiscal mismanagement, the lack of quality public defenders puts public safety at risk. When the innocent are imprisoned, the real criminals remain on the street. In recent years, Michigan has had a series of wrongful convictions overturned, including the well-known case of Eddie Joe Lloyd who was exonerated of rape and murder by DNA evidence after 17 years imprisonment. The true perpetrator of the crime remains at large.
"A fully funded public defender system protects Michigan families and communities," added Carroll. "State policymakers must take immediate, decisive steps to begin funding and administering this vital program on behalf of all Michigan residents."
The findings are based on a year-long study of 10 counties chosen by a Michigan-based advisory group consisting of representatives from a number of state and county legal offices and groups, including the State Court Administrator's Office, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan and the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, as well as the state Supreme Court and trial-level judges. NLADA, in partnership with the Michigan State Bar Association, conducted the study at the request of state lawmakers.
To read the Executive Summary, fact sheet or full report, please visit:
The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), founded in 1911, is the oldest and largest national, nonprofit membership organization devoting all of its resources to advocating equal justice for all Americans. NLADA champions effective legal assistance for people who cannot afford counsel, serves as a collective voice for both civil legal services and public defense services throughout the nation and provides a wide range of services and benefits to its individual and organizational members.
NLADA Report Featured in Story on Michigan NPR Station WKAR