GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Studies show Michigan is among the worst states in the country at protecting the constitutional rights of poor criminal defendants. New statewide standards are expected to change that, but the cost of the fix could be problematic.
Under initial proposals, bringing indigent defense up to new minimum standards would cost an additional $87 million, which counties and courts expect to come from the state coffers. That total is sure to shrink as the plans are reworked and reviewed, but lawmakers will likely be asked to come up with tens of millions of dollars to better defend the poor in court.
“Everybody has the constitutional right to have a lawyer when they are accused of a crime, even if they can’t afford it,” said Michael Puerner of Ada, the chairman of the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. “It’s hard to debate that people charged with a crime are entitled to things like meeting their lawyer early in that process, and having a confidential place to gather, and to make sure that that lawyer is properly trained to represent them.”
The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission was created by lawmakers in 2013 after a series of studies showed state systems were not providing a constitutional defense for poor suspects. The commission has created eight minimum standards lawyers and defense systems will be required to meet.
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