All data is current as of 2013, unless otherwise noted.
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How the right to counsel is administered and structured
Branch of government: executive
The State Public Defender Act of 1971 created an independent seven-member commission appointed by a diversity of factions to ensure that no single branch of government could exert undue interference on the work of the agency dedicated to representing poor people. The commission was charged with overseeing the State Public Defender system, hiring and firing the executive of the system, and setting uniform policies for the delivery of indigent defense services in Nevada’s rural counties.
Yet, only four years after creating the State Public Defender Commission, the Nevada Legislature did away with it and voted instead to make the State Public Defender a direct gubernatorial appointment (four-year term). In 1989, the legislature further compromised the ability of the State Public Defender to render effective services by demoting the position from a gubernatorial cabinet-level position to one of several intra-agency positions within the Department of Human Services.
Pursuant to the Nevada Supreme Court’s inherent authority to regulate legal practice in the state, the Court issued Administrative Order ADKT-411 on January 2008 that, among other things: a) instituted performance standards for attorneys in trial-level adult criminal, juvenile delinquency, and appellate representation; b) removed the judiciary from the oversight and administration of indigent defense; and, c) required each county to submit to the Supreme Court for approval local plans for delivering indigent defense services.
How the right to counsel is funded
Percentage of local funding: 99%
Percentage of alternative funding: 0%
As originally conceived in 1971, the State Public Defender was funded through a combination of state and county funding, with the state paying for 80% of all public defender costs in the rural counties and the counties paying the remaining 20%. Over time, the state reduced its financial commitment to the point where today participating counties pay 80% of the entire cost of the system. As only one of a number of agencies within the Department of Human Services, the State Public Defender must now justify its office budget among all human services divisions and then have the Director of Human Services argue that budget amongst all other cabinet departments.
The rural counties that choose to not participate in the state system decide how much they will spend on providing right to counsel services and bear that cost. Clark and Washoe carry the full cost of providing right to counsel services within their respective counties.
The methods used to provide public counsel
Nevada statutes require all counties whose population is 100,000 or more to create a county-funded office of the public defender –- Clark County (Las Vegas) and Washoe County (Reno) are the only two counties that qualify. Clark County and Washoe County also have conflict defender offices. The Clark County Office of the Special Public Defender handles conflicts only in death penalty cases, other murder cases, and representation of parents in termination of parental rights proceedings. An independent, coordinated assigned counsel system in Clark County handles all other conflict matters.
As the state reduced its funding contribution to the State Public Defender to provide right to counsel services in the rural counties, those counties learned they could spend less money to provide the services and exercise local power over their public defense systems by simply opting out of the state system. Today, the State Public Defender serves only Carson City and Storey County.
The fourteen rural counties and one independent city (Carson City) may, if they so desire, establish a county public defender office, though only Elko County has done so. In most instances, the county governments established systems in which the lowest bidder is contracted to provide representation in an unlimited number of cases for a single flat fee. The attorneys are not reimbursed for overhead or for out-of-pocket case expenses such as mileage, experts, investigators, etc.
Additional public defense procedures are required under Nevada Supreme Court order ADKT-411.
Source of data: original research conducted by Sixth Amendment Center staff.