Louisiana

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At a glance (as of 2013)

Percentage of state funding: 33%
Percentage of local funding: negligible – New Orleans augments state funding
Percentage of alternative funding: 67% – criminal fines and fees
State commission: yes
Branch of government: executive

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Structure & Funding of Indigent Defense Services

The Louisiana Public Defender Board (LPDB) is a fifteen-member commission housed in the executive branch that is statutorily required to promulgate indigent defense standards. LPDB members are appointed by diverse authorities: Governor (6- one representing each of the four accredited law schools, and 2 others); Chief Justice (2 – one juvenile justice expert; one retired judge); President of the Louisiana State Bar Association (2); Senate President; Speaker of the House; President of the Louis A. Martinet Society (African-American Bar); Chairman of the Louisiana State Law Institute’s Children Code Committee; and, the executive director of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference.

Statutes make clear that LPDB must promulgate standards related to, among others: reasonable caseloads, attorney qualifications, training, and performance. LPDB appoints a State Public Defender that oversees a central office providing statewide training. The central office contracts with non-profit public defender agencies for appellate services, and capital conflict representation.

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Though indigent defense is organized at the state-level, trial-level services are still delivered with some local autonomy. Louisiana has 41 judicial districts [comprising 64 parishes (the equivalent to counties in other states)]. Prior to the creation of LPDB in 2007, each district had a “chief defender” of the district. The enabling statute grandfathered in existing chiefs and allowed them to determine how best to deliver services (assigned counsel, contract defender or staffed public defender offices). However, LPDB has the statutory authority to not only promulgate standards but, importantly, to enforce them as well. And, the legislative reform of 2007 created LPDB ombudsmen who are required to evaluate services in each district on a regular basis. If services are found to be deficient, LPDB is authorized to remove the chief defender and remedy services under any model the Board sees fit. Additionally, when a grandfathered chief retires, LPDB has total authority to decide how best to deliver services (including regionalizing services.)

As structured as the Louisiana system is, the state stands alone in the nation as the only jurisdiction with a statewide indigent defense system that relies to a large extent on locally generated, non-government general fund appropriations to fund the right to counsel. The majority of funding for trial-level services comes from a combination of fines and fees (e.g., bail bond revenue, criminal bond fees, revenue form forfeitures, and indigency screening fees, among others). The single greatest of these revenue generators for indigent defense in Louisiana is a special court cost ($45) assessed against every criminal defendant convicted after trial, pleads guilty or no contest, or who forfeits his or her bond for violation of a state statute or a local ordinance other than a parking ticket. The result of this funding scheme is that a significant part of funding for trial-level representation in Louisiana comes from fees assessed on traffic tickets. The City of New Orleans augments state funding with limited local funding.

Statutory Authority

La. R.S. 15:142 through La. R.S. 15: 183

Source of data: original research conducted by Sixth Amendment Center staff, augmented by the Louisiana Public Defender Board, 2013 Annual Board Report.