At a Glance (as of 2013)
Percentage of state funding: 29%
Percentage of local funding: 71%
Percentage of alternative funding: 0%
State commission: none
Branch of government: executive
Structure & Funding of Indigent Defense Services
The right to effective assistance of counsel in Mississippi is unequivocal. Miss. Code Ann. § 25-32-9(1) requires that “any person . . . arrested and charged with a felony, a misdemeanor or an act of delinquency,” shall be afforded the opportunity to sign an affidavit of indigency and be appointed a public defender. The indigent accused, furthermore, is statutorily entitled to have “representation available at every critical stage of the proceedings against him where a substantial right may be affected.” Sub-section (3) of the same statute goes on to make clear that the right to counsel extends to all courts of limited jurisdiction, noting that “[n]o person determined to be an indigent . . . shall be imprisoned as a result of a misdemeanor conviction unless he was represented by the public defender or waived the right to counsel.” Despite this, local government must shoulder the entire burden of providing public attorneys to the accused.
In 2011, the state legislature took initial steps toward state oversight of indigent defense services by establishing the Mississippi Office of the State Public Defender (OSPD). OSPD combined the previously existing state Office of Indigent Appeals and the Office of Capital Defense Counsel into one administrative unit in the executive branch. In addition to providing the direct client-representation services for which the two newly merged offices were previously responsible, the legislature also mandated that this new office examine the delivery of trial-level indigent defense services across the state. Specifically, the OSPD is to “coordinate the collection and dissemination of statistical data” and to “develop plans and proposals for further development of a statewide public defender system in coordination with the Mississippi Public Defenders Task Force.”
A third state agency, the Office of Capital Post-Conviction, continues to exist outside of OSPD’s purview (it was not merged together along with the Office of Indigent Appeals and Office of Capital Defense Counsel in 2011). The Office of Capital Post-Conviction represents indigent individuals on Mississippi’s death row in state post-conviction proceedings.
Unlike many states where municipal courts only hear local ordinance violations, Mississippi’s 246 municipal courts adjudicate misdemeanors and hold preliminary hearings on felonies. This makes cities and towns a primary funder of right to counsel services. Local governments, however, have significant revenue-raising restrictions placed on them by the state while being statutorily prohibited from deficit spending. There are three revenue sources available to local government: real estate taxes; fees for permits/services; and assessments on ordinance violations, traffic infractions and criminal convictions. But, because the state of Mississippi’s low tax burden, local governments must rely more heavily on unpredictable revenue streams, such as court fees and assessments, to pay for their criminal justice priorities. It comes as no surprise then that there is wide inconsistency on indigent defense cost-per-capita spending across the state.
Contract defender services are the predominant delivery model in Mississippi (29.27%, or 24 of 82 counties). Attorneys working under fixed rate contracts are generally not reimbursed for overhead or for out-of-pocket case expenses, such as mileage, experts, or investigators. In short, the more work an attorney does on a case, the less money that attorney would make, giving attorneys a clear financial incentive to do as little work on their cases as possible.
Miss. Code Ann. § 25-32-1 through 25-32-71
Source of data: original research conducted by Sixth Amendment Center staff.