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Sixth Amendment Center Releases Groundbreaking Study of Public Defense in Indiana; Report Commissioned by Nation's Criminal Defense Bar
Updated October 25, 2016 7:06 AM
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(Washington, DC) - This morning, the Sixth Amendment Center released an important new study - The Right to Counsel in Indiana: Evaluation of Trial level Indigent Defense Services.

As part of its public defense reform program, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) commissioned the Sixth Amendment Center to conduct an independent study of the state of public defense in Indiana and to produce this report. This report and recommendations were prepared primarily to aid in the work of the Indiana Indigent Defense Study Advisory Committee (IDSAC), which is composed of representatives from the Indiana Supreme Court, Legislature, State Bar Association, Public Defender Commission, Public Defender Council, Prosecuting Attorneys Council, Judges Association, and the Indiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

"The Sixth Amendment's guarantee of the right to counsel in all criminal prosecutions is at the heart of the American criminal justice system," said NACDL President Barry J. Pollack. "All too often, though, it is a promise that goes unfulfilled, especially for those who need this constitutional protection the most. This impressive and in-depth report on public defense in Indiana, commissioned by NACDL and executed by the Sixth Amendment Center, is precisely the sort of work that must be done, state by state and jurisdiction by jurisdiction to determine where public defense is working and where it is falling short. NACDL is committed to supporting efforts like this across the country."

"In its 1963 decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court made the provision of Sixth Amendment right to counsel services a state obligation under the Fourteenth Amendment," said David Carroll, Executive Director of the Sixth Amendment Center. "In Indiana, however, counties and cities are primarily responsible for funding and administering all indigent defense services. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has never directly considered whether it is unconstitutional for a state to delegate its constitutional responsibility in this way, a state choosing to do so must guarantee that local governments are not only capable of providing adequate representation, but that they are in fact doing so. Despite this, as reflected in this study, Indiana has little or no oversight over the majority of indigent defense cases."

In Indiana, counties are responsible in the first instance to fund and administer public defense services. In that context, among the findings examined in the report are that Indiana has no mechanism to ensure that its constitutional obligation to provide effective counsel to the poor is met:

  • in misdemeanor cases in any of its courts,
  • in felony and juvenile delinquency cases, at both the trial level and on direct appeal, in counties and courts not participating in the Indiana Public Defender Commission (IPDC) reimbursement program, and
  • in capital cases for which counties do not seek state reimbursement.

The study also found that the IPDC's ability to ensure effective representation at the local level is hindered by the state's failure to adequately fund and staff the IPDC. In addition, the study reveals that some counties effectively deny counsel by encouraging defendants to negotiate directly with prosecutors, accepting uncounseled pleas at initial hearings, and using non-uniform indigency standards. The study exposes that Indiana does not consistently require those attorneys who engage in public defense to have specific qualifications to handle cases of varying severity or training to handle specific types of non-capital cases. The study also shows that public defense systems in many Indiana counties endure undue judicial interference, undue political interference, and/or flat-fee contracts, producing conflicts between the lawyer's economic self-interest and the defendant's right to effective representation. This financial conflict of interest leads to lawyers accepting excessive caseloads that make it impossible for the lawyer to spend the time and attention that is required on a given case to provide effective assistance of counsel.

In light of the study's findings, the report provides the following five recommendations:

  • Indiana must require all courts in all counties to meet the parameters of effective indigent defense systems as defined in United States v. Cronic. At a minimum, binding standards must be promulgated and applicable at trial and on direct appeal for all adult criminal and juvenile delinquency cases, including conflict cases, related to: a) presence of counsel at all critical stages of a criminal proceeding; b) indigency determination; c) attorney performance; d) attorney qualification, training, and supervision; and e) attorney workload.
  • The State of Indiana must create a comprehensive and mandatory training and supervision system for all indigent defense providers based on standards.
  • The State of Indiana must create an independent system to evaluate compliance with, and enforce adherence to, all standards (capital and non-capital).
  • The State of Indiana must prohibit contracts that create financial disincentives for attorneys to provide effective representation to each of their clients.
  • The State of Indiana should create a statewide appellate defender office as a check against inadequate trial-level representation.

NACDL will continue to monitor the situation in Indiana and offer ongoing support to promote necessary reforms.

The Report and Executive Summary are available at www.nacdl.org/IndianaPublicDefense.



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