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At a Glance (as of 2013)

Percentage of state funding: 100%
Percentage of local funding: 0%
Percentage of alternative funding: 0%
State commission: yes
Branch of government: executive


Structure & Funding of Indigent Defense Services

The Montana Public Defender Commission (MPDC) is an 11-member public defender commission appointed by diverse authorities: the Supreme Court (2 appointees); the President of the State Bar (3); the President of the Senate (1); the Speaker of the House (1); and the Governor (4 appointments, but they must be from organizations representing: (a) indigent persons, (b) Native American interests, (c) people with mental illness, and (d) people with addictions). No commission member may be a sitting judge, public defense provider, prosecutor, or law enforcement official.

The MPDC oversees the Office of the State Public Defender (OSPD). In addition to housing the Office of the Chief Public Defender, OSPD also houses the appellate division, a contracts division, and a training unit. OSPD employs 11 regional directors to oversee trial-level services. (Montana has 56 counties and 22 judicial districts; with no intermediary appellate court or regions, 11 regions were created based on a number of criteria related to the districts.)


Regional directors determine the indigent defense delivery model employed in their respective regions in consultation with OSPD. And, since Montana is the fourth largest state geographically but with one of the smallest state populations (it ranks 48th of the 50 states in state population density), Montana has adopted a flexible indigent defense delivery system in which a region can employ both public and private attorneys. Over time, the system gravitated to one in which each region now has staff attorneys and then qualified attorneys willing to accept cases enter into memoranda of understanding with OSPD to handle conflict cases and overload cases from the primary system.

MPDC is statutorily authorized to promulgate standards related to the qualification and training of attorneys, performance guidelines, and supervision. MPDC is statutorily required to set standards related to manageable caseloads and workloads, to establish protocols for dealing with excessive caseloads, and to collect, record and report caseload data to support strategic planning, including proper staffing levels. MPDC is entirely state-funded.

Statutory Authority

Mont. Code Ann. § 47-1-101 through 47-1-118

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