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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

In the immediate wake of the Gideon decision, the Wisconsin legislature created the Wisconsin State Public Defender (SPD) in 1965. Created first as a system to provide counsel in post-conviction appeals, the legislature transformed the SPD in 1979 into an independent state agency to provide direct trial-level right to counsel services in all counties. Today, primary indigent defense services are provided by government staff attorneys working in 35 local public defender offices to handle trial-level services, plus another two offices for appellate work, all overseen by the system’s central administration in Madison. A state public defender serves as the system’s chief attorney, who is appointed by an independent, nine-person commission, and who is responsible for carrying out the commission’s policies and directives. The Governor appoints commission members with advice and consent of the Senate.


SPD, through a division set apart from the primary system through ethical screens, is also responsible for overseeing representation of conflict defendants. SPD oversees certification, appointment, and payment of private attorneys who represent indigent clients. Private attorneys are paid in two ways: (1) an hourly rate; or (2) a flat, per case contracted amount (misdemeanor cases only).

Wisconsin has the lowest assigned counsel compensation rate (at $40 per hour) of any of the fifty states. The state legislature has not approved an increase in the current rate of pay since 1995. And even then, in 1995, the legislature actually decreased assigned counsel rates for in-court work from $50/hour to the current $40/hour. SPD has 58 fixed-fee contracts covering approximately 10,000 cases.

Statutory Authority:

Wis. Stat. § 977.01 through 977.09

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