Mississippi

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All data is current as of 2013, unless otherwise noted.
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How the right to counsel is administered and structured

State commission: none
Branch of government: executive

Local government must shoulder the entire burden of providing public attorneys to the accused, other than for appeals and some portion of death penalty cases.

In 2011, the state legislature took initial steps toward state oversight of indigent defense services by establishing the Mississippi Office of State Public Defender (OSPD) in the executive branch of government. 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.” OSPD combined the previously existing state Office of Indigent Appeals and the Office of Capital Defense Counsel into one administrative unit within OSPD.

A separate state agency, the Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel, continues to exist outside of OSPD’s purview

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How the right to counsel is funded

Percentage of state funding: 29%
Percentage of local funding: 71%
Percentage of alternative funding: 0%

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 spending per-capita across the state.

The methods used to provide public counsel

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.

For death penalty cases, the Office of Capital Defense Counsel, within the Mississippi Office of State Public Defender (OSPD), provides a trial attorney for indigent defendants when requested to do so by a county.

The Office of Indigent Appeals, within the Mississippi Office of State Public Defender (OSPD), handles appeals statewide for indigent clients.

The Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel represents indigent individuals on Mississippi’s death row in state post-conviction proceedings.

Legal authority

Mississippi Constitution, art. 3, § 26

Mississippi Code Annotated, §§ 25-32-1 through 25-32-71 (public defenders), and §§ 99-15-15 through 99-15-21 (appointment and compensation of counsel)

Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure, rule 7

Source of data: original research conducted by Sixth Amendment Center staff.