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At a Glance (as of 2013)

Percentage of state funding: 5%
Percentage of local funding: 95%
Percentage of alternative funding: o%
State commission: yes – limited authority
Branch of government: executive


Structure & Funding of Indigent Defense Services

Each county in Nebraska determines, without state input and with only minimal restrictions, the method it uses to provide Sixth Amendment right to counsel services. Those counties with populations exceeding 100,000 are required to establish public defender offices with popularly elected chief defenders at the helm [Douglas County (Omaha), Lancaster County (Lincoln) and Sarpy County (Papillion)]. Should any county with less than 100,000 residents voluntarily establish such an office, their chief public defender must likewise be locally elected.  Approximately one-quarter of all counties have done so (23 elected defender systems in Nebraska’s 93 counties. Not all of the elected defenders, however, work full time; many have private practices in addition).  All others use a combination of public defenders, contracts, and assigned counsel systems to provide direct representation.


In 1995, the legislature established the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy (NCPA) in the executive branch. The nine members are appointed by the Governor from a list of attorneys submitted by the executive council of the Nebraska State Bar Association after consultation with the board of directors of the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorneys Association. NCPA employs a small, six-attorney office that provides direct representation only in capital trials, appeals, some serious non-capital felonies involving drugs and violent crime, and otherwise serves as a resource and training center for the county-based systems. And while the commission has attempted to craft standards and guidelines for trial-level representation, including workload standards, the commission lacks authority to enforce those standards and to otherwise examine the provision of right to counsel services at the county level. It is thus categorized as a commission with limited authority.

Statutory Authority

NRS § 23-3401 through 23-3408 (county public defenders); and NRS § 29-3923 to 29-3930 (commission).

Source of data: original research conducted by Sixth Amendment Center staff, augmented by the Nebraska Minority Justice Committee, Report to the Nebraska Supreme Court on Indigent Defense Systems and Fee Structures (2006).