Projects & Impact

The members of our staff are national experts on the right to counsel, not only in helping states and counties understand the minimum requirements of the Constitution, but also in guiding policymakers in crafting sustainable solutions that promote public safety and fiscal responsibility.

At the Sixth Amendment Center, we believe in using the most effective means – most efficient, cost-effective, time-effective means that will yield a workable solution – to address the particular issue faced by the particular jurisdiction that seeks our help. Just as there is no one-size-fits-all model that states and counties must use to deliver effective defense services, so too there is no single method or approach that is the only way to help a jurisdiction, nor is there a rigid sequence of steps that must be followed. We are flexible, tailoring our assistance and support to meet each jurisdiction’s individualized needs, while the assistance we provide is at all times rooted in Sixth Amendment case law and the minimum national standards for right to counsel systems.

Following is an overview of some of our work helping jurisdictions fulfill their constitutional obligation to provide effective assistance of counsel. To read about 6AC’s work in a particular state, click on the name of that state. Or [Expand All] to see and print from one location the information about 6AC’s work throughout the country, then [Collapse All] to get back to the list of states.

Delaware
Project On behalf of Funding Year
Evaluation: The Crucible of Adversarial Testing Office of the Public Defender, State of Delaware U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance 2014

Problem: To end undue judicial interference in public defense system, the chief justice transferred responsibility for administering conflict services from the court to the Office of the Public Defender (OPD). However, OPD was in no position to take on the new responsibilities as an unorganized conflict system was grafted onto an overloaded primary system, without enough care given to needed ethical screens.

6AC Impact: Based on 6AC recommendations, 2015 legislation created the Office of Defense Services (ODS) composed of three divisions: Central Administration, Public Defender’s Office (PDO), and Office of Conflicts Counsel (OCC). Central Administration handles all non-case related matters (management, training and development, fiscal and human resources, intake, and, information technologies) while the PDO and OCC provide direct representation in silos independent of one another. The same legislation requires an 8-year term of office for the ODS Chief Defender. New funding allowed ODS to increase assigned counsel rates while instituting continuous representation by the same attorney in all felony cases in all counties.

Idaho
Project On behalf of Funding Year
Technical Assistance Legislative Public Defense Reform Interim Committee U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance 2013-2014, 2015-2016

Problem: Prior to 6AC involvement, the responsibility for administering and funding trial-level indigent defense services in Idaho was a local government function. State government had no entity dedicated to determining whether the state’s obligation to provide effective defender services was being met by its counties and cities, and local government generally fell short of the mark due to excessive caseload, no supervision, and undue political & judicial interference.

6AC Impact: Based on 6AC recommendations, 2014 legislation created the Idaho Public Defense Commission (IPDC). Subsequent 2016 legislation empowered IPDC to: collect uniform data; ban flat fee contracting; promulgate, monitor and enforce standards. Statutorily required standards include: independence of the defense function; time sufficiency and workload controls; attorney/client confidentiality; attorney qualification, training and supervision; and continuous representation. IPDC is authorized to grant state monies to help local government with trial-level representation. If the IPDC determines that a county “willfully and materially” fails to comply with standards, IPDC is authorized to remedy the deficiencies, including taking over all services, and charge the county for the cost. And, if the cost is not paid within 60 days, “the state treasurer shall immediately intercept any payments from sales tax moneys that would be distributed to the county,” and the intercepted funds will go to reimburse the commission.

Indiana
Project On behalf of Funding Year
Evaluation: The Right to Counsel in Indiana Indiana Indigent Defense Study Advisory Committee (ad-hoc committee of representatives of the three branches of government, and criminal justice stakeholders & policymakers). National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers with Koch Industries funding 2016

Problem: Indiana counties and cities are responsible for funding and administering all indigent defense services. Indiana counties (but not cities) may, if they so choose, receive a partial reimbursement from the state for their indigent defense costs — excluding misdemeanors, for which the state provides no reimbursement at all — in exchange for meeting standards set by the Indiana Public Defender Commission (IPDC). However, counties are also free to forgo state money and avoid state oversight. What many Indiana counties have realized is that they can contract with private counsel on a flat fee basis for an unlimited number of cases for less money than it would cost to comply with state standards (even factoring in the state reimbursement).

6AC Impact: In 2017, the Indiana Task Force on Public Defense (“Task Force”) was created to independently study the right to counsel in Indiana to validate the 6AC report and recommendations. A 2018 Task Force report prioritized three 6AC evaluation recommendations: reimburse counties for misdemeanor cases; fund and administer a centralized state appellate office; and statutorily allow counties to create multi-county public defense delivery systems and to change the composition of local public defense boards to limit judicial interference. This third priority was signed into law in 2019. Additionally, the existing Indiana Public Defense Commission received significant funding to expand its oversight staff.

Maine
Project On behalf of Funding Year
Technical Assistance Committee on Judiciary (bicameral legislative committee) U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance 2018
Evaluation: The Right to Counsel in Maine Maine Legislative Council (bipartisan, bicameral administrative body governing the legislature) Maine Legislative Council 2019

Problem: Maine is the only state in the country that provides all indigent defense services through private attorneys. Other states have moved away from using solely private attorneys, because it is difficult to predict and contain costs in a private attorney system and difficult to provide quality oversight. The Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services (MCILS) is tasked with overseeing indigent defense services, but undue political interference with MCILS resulted in underfunding. Moreover, MCILS is expected to oversee the representation by, and cost of, nearly 600 attorneys, handling more than 30,000 cases each year in 47 courthouses presided over by approximately 90 justices, judges, and magistrates – all with a staff of just three people.

6AC Impact: Based on 6AC technical assistance as the first step in creating proper oversight, in 2018 Maine expanded the number and type of government officials authorized to appoint people to MCILS to comport with national standards on independence of the defense function. The same legislation authorized and funded a 6AC evaluation.

The 6AC 2019 evaluation recommended, among others, that Maine: (a) authorize and fund MCILS at a level sufficient to employ state government attorneys and support staff in a statewide appellate defendant office and in a trial level public defender office serving Cumberland County (Portland); (b) enact a statutory ban on all public defense contracts that create financial disincentive to effective representation; and (c) bar communications between prosecutors and unrepresented defendants. MCILS subsequently banned all flat fee contracting and instituted better financial controls. Further legislative reforms are on pause as a governmental oversight investigation takes place, based on potential overbilling by some attorneys, as reported by the 6AC.

Michigan
Project On behalf of Funding Year
Technical Assistance Governor’s Advisory Commission on Indigent Defense U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance 2012-2013
Evaluation: The Right to Counsel in Wayne County (Public Defender Office) Wayne County Wayne County under a Michigan Indigent Defense Commission grant 2018
Evaluation: The Right to Counsel in Wayne County (Assigned Counsel Services) Wayne County Wayne County under a Michigan Indigent Defense Commission grant 2019

Problem: Prior to 6AC involvement, the responsibility for administering and funding trial-level indigent defense services in Michigan was an entirely local government function. State government had no entity dedicated to determining whether the state’s obligation to provide effective defender services was being met by its counties and cities, and local government generally fell short of the mark due to excessive caseload, no supervision, and undue political & judicial interference.

6AC Impact: Based on 6AC recommendations, the Governor’s Advisory Commission issued a 2012 report defining the state’s indigent defense system as an “uncoordinated, 83-county patchwork quilt,” with each county “dependent on its own interpretation of what is adequate” given limited local funding. In 2013, Michigan enacted a comprehensive legislative package creating the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) – empowered to develop, monitor and enforce standards statewide. Statutorily required standards include: independence of the defense function; time sufficiency and workload controls; attorney/client confidentiality; attorney qualification, training and supervision; and continuous representation. Local governments submit plans on how best to meet MIDC standards. If approved, the state is responsible for covering the difference between existing local funding and the amount to implement the standards. In the first year of state funding, Michigan augmented local funding by more than double. MIDC standards led 32 of 83 counties to create public defender offices. Pre-reform there were just three public defender offices in the state.

As part of its oversight function, MIDC identified Wayne County as needing to have their indigent defense services evaluated. For 16 years, the nonprofit State Defender Office (SDO) handling 25% of the felony cases in Wayne County received the same funding despite increasing caseloads and overhead expenses. A limited number of SDO attorneys, combined with the large number of courtrooms they were contractually obligated to cover each day, meant that the same attorney rarely ever represented an indigent defendant from appointment through disposition of the case.

MIDC granted Wayne County funds for 6AC to assess SDO. Based on 6AC recommendations, Wayne County Commissioners ended its contractual relationship with SDO and accept bids for a new provider. Subsequently, the county unanimously approved Neighborhood Defender Services (NDS) to establish a new public defender office in Detroit. The decision brings NDS’s nationally recognized holistic representation model to the service of Wayne County residents. NDS Detroit opened its doors in early October 2019, and has a staff of 70 working to meet the legal and social work needs of appointed clients. Soon, NDS Detroit will also provide legal assistance to clients in areas such as immigration, housing, and family law, to protect residents who endure collateral consequences as a result of interaction with the criminal legal system.

In addition, Wayne County trial court judges directly oversee private assigned counsel providing representation in 75% of indigent felony cases. Every aspect of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel is impaired by the lack of independence from the judiciary, leaving the personal interests of appointed private attorneys in conflict with the legal interests of the defendants whom they are appointed to represent.

MIDC granted to Wayne County funds for 6AC to assess the assigned counsel services. Based on 6AC recommendations, Wayne County has created an independent managed assigned counsel system to supervise private attorneys providing representation. Further reforms await the 2020 budget.

Mississippi
Project On behalf of Funding Year
Technical Assistance Mississippi Office of the Public Defender American Bar Association, Standing Committee on Legal Aid & Indigent Defendants 2012-2014
Evaluation: The Right to Counsel in Mississippi Mississippi Supreme Court Public Defender Task Force U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance 2015-2018

Problem: The responsibility for administering and funding trial-level indigent defense services in Mississippi is an entirely local government function. State government has no entity dedicated to determining whether the state’s obligation to provide effective defender services was being met by its counties and cities, and local government generally fell short of the mark due to excessive caseload, no supervision, and undue political & judicial interference.

6AC Impact: In 2011, Mississippi created the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) to collect information from local governments on the provision of the right to counsel. The 6AC worked with OPD to show how the decentralized public defense delivery system did not comport with its neighboring states. Based on 6AC recommendations, a Mississippi Supreme Court Public Defender Task Force (“Task Force”) was reconstituted and directed the 6AC to evaluate felony trial-level representation statewide.

In 2018, the Supreme Court Public Defender Task Force endorsed the 6AC recommendations to: (a) create a state level entity to promulgate and enforce standards that define how effective indigent defense services; and (b) create an entity to train criminal justice system actors about the standards so that they are implemented effectively and efficiently. The Mississippi legislature is limited to a 90-day session every other year. A comprehensive reform bill was introduced in 2020, but died in the Appropriations Committee. The bill can next come up in 2022.

Nevada
Project On behalf of Funding Year
Technical Assistance Report: Reclaiming Justice Nevada Supreme Court Indigent Defense Commission Nevada Supreme Court 2012-2013
Evaluation: The Right to Counsel in Rural Nevada Nevada Right to Counsel Commission Nevada Right to Counsel Commission 2018

Problem: Prior to 6AC involvement, the responsibility for administering and funding trial-level indigent defense services in Nevada was a local government function, unless the county chose to use the services of the State Public Defender (SPD). The few counties opting into the state system were responsible for part of the funding of the SPD. State government had no organization dedicated to determining whether or not the state’s obligation to provide effective defender services was being met by its counties and cities opting out of SPD services, and local government generally fell short of the mark due to excessive caseload, no supervision, and undue political & judicial interference.

6AC Impact: In 2012, the Nevada Supreme Court asked the 6AC to assist build consensus for the improvement of the right to counsel in rural Nevada. Based on 6AC recommendations, the Nevada Supreme Court issued two administrative orders: a) banning the use of flat fee contracts statewide; and, b) declaring that any interference with a public defender’s constitutionally protected independence might henceforth be considered an actual or constructive denial of assistance of counsel that is legally presumed to result in prejudice. Based on 6AC recommendations, the legislature subsequently created the Nevada Right to Counsel Commission to specifically evaluate right to counsel services in rural Nevada.

Based on recommendations from the 2018 6AC evaluation, the Nevada legislature created the state Board on Indigent Defense Services (BIDS) and the state Department of Indigent Defense Services in 2019. BIDS is required to promulgate, monitor and enforce statewide standards for the delivery of indigent defense services statewide. Statutorily required standards include: independence of the defense function; time sufficiency and workload controls; attorney/client confidentiality; attorney qualification, training and supervision; and continuous representation. BIDS is currently drafting standards and advocating for state monies to reimburse counties for meeting standards.

Oregon
Project On behalf of Funding Year
Evaluation: The Right to Counsel in Oregon Oregon Public Defense Services Commission State of Oregon through the Oregon Public Defense Services Commission 2019

Problem: The State of Oregon attempts to fulfill its obligation to provide effective right to counsel services in trial courts primarily through an array of contracts let by the Public Defense Services Commission (PDSC), and administered by the Office of Public Defense Services (OPDS). In doing so, the state has created a complex bureaucracy that collects a significant amount of indigent defense data, yet does not provide sufficient oversight or financial accountability.

6AC Impact: Based on 6AC recommendations, a 2020 reform bill was introduced to reconstitute the appointing process for PDSC to better ensure independence of the defense function and requires OPDS to enter into contracts that adhere to national caseload standards, among others. The budget bill significantly increases the OPDS budget to: hire 23 new positions to increase oversight and training; increase investigator rates; to reduce disparity in pay for some rural defenders; and to decrease caseload by requiring existing contracts to hire 45 additional attorneys. The 2020 legislative session ended when the minority party walked out over unrelated issues before final action could be approved.

Tennessee
Project On behalf of Funding Year
Technical Assistance Supreme Court, Indigent Representation Task Force U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance 2015-2017

Problem: Although public defense services in Tennessee is 100% state-funded, primary services in adult criminal cases are provided by elected district defenders while adult conflict services and juvenile delinquency cases are under the judiciary. Recognizing that the State of Tennessee needs a better way of providing right to counsel services, in 2015 the Chief Justice created an Indigent Representation Task Force and challenged them to “build a better mousetrap.”

6AC Impact: Based on 6AC recommendations, the Indigent Representation Task Force (“Task Force”) report endorsed a plan to: (a) create a single statewide commission with authority to promulgate and enforce uniform standards over all indigent criminal, delinquency, and civil cases; (b) create a statewide appellate defender office; (c) require the district defender system to provide primary representation in delinquency cases; (d) increase the numbers and types of support staff in the district defender offices; and (e) significantly raise the compensation rates paid to private attorneys to handle indigent cases and setting expert compensation at market rates. In 2017, the Tennessee Supreme Court announced its unanimous support for the recommendations. In 2019, funding was obtained through the budget process to create the state appellate defender and raise private attorney compensation rates. A legislative criminal justice committee is currently considering the other recommendations.

Texas
Project On behalf of Funding Year
Evaluation: The Right to Counsel in Potter & Armstrong Counties, Texas Armstrong and Potter counties (Amarillo) U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance 2019

Problem: Texas has 254 counties, and the criminal justice system in each of those counties operates differently from all others. Texas state law requires the judges who have jurisdiction over criminal cases in each county to adopt by local rule countywide procedures for providing counsel to indigent defendants at trial and appeal for crimes punishable by incarceration and the counties are required to pay for representation. The combination of judicial interference and limited county resources results in more than 74% of all misdemeanor defendants in Potter County face the possibility of jail time without the aid of a lawyer, due to sheriff’s deputies, county prosecutors, and trial court judges exerting direct, overt pressure on indigent defendants to forego exercising their constitutional right to counsel.

6AC Impact: Fixing the deficiencies in Potter and Armstrong counties requires both state and local reforms. Those discussions were just beginning as of 2020.

Utah
Project On behalf of Funding Year
Evaluation: The Right to Counsel in Utah Utah Judicial Council, Study Committee on the Representation of Indigent Criminal Defendants U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance 2015

Problem: Prior to 6AC involvement, the responsibility for administering and funding all indigent defense services in Utah was an entirely local government function. State government had no entity dedicated to determining whether the state’s obligation to provide effective defender services was being met by its counties and cities, and local government generally fell short of the mark due to excessive caseload, no supervision, and undue political & judicial interference.

6AC Impact: Based on 6AC recommendations, the legislature created the Utah Indigent Defense Commission (UIDC) in 2017. The UIDC is statutorily required to adopt guiding principles to ensure that: (a) indigent defense services providers have independent judgment without fear of retaliation; (b) service providers provide conflict-free representation, including a separate contract for conflict counsel; (c) the state does not interfere with service providers’ access to clients and service providers are free to defend clients based on their independent judgment; (d) accused persons are provided counsel at all critical stages of the criminal process; and (e) counsel is free to provide meaningful, adversarial testing of the evidence, including adequate access to defense resources and workloads that allow for time to meet with clients, investigate cases, and file appropriate motions. The UIDC also received the first ever state funding for indigent defense services help local governments to meet the standards. In 2017, the Utah legislature expanded the authority of the UIDC to include oversight of juvenile delinquency and dependency representation. In 2020, the Utah legislature authorized UIDC to create and administer the state appellate defender office to handle all appeals in counties outside of Salt Lake City.

Wisconsin
Project On behalf of Funding Year
Technical Assistance Report: Justice Shortchanged Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers 2015

Problem: Prior to 6AC technical assistance, Wisconsin had the lowest hourly compensation rate for private attorneys handling public defense cases of all 50 states. The unreasonably low attorney compensation rates interfere with a lawyers’ ethical obligation to give undivided loyalty to each and every defendant.

6AC Impact: The 6AC worked with the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (WACDL) to review case law to identify instances of ineffective assistance of counsel provided by assigned counsel and surveyed attorneys about how the low rates affect their ability to effectively represent clients. Based on the 6AC report, a coalition of legal experts petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2017 to end financial conflicts of interest between private attorneys and the indigent clients caused by the low compensation. In May 2018, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held a public hearing regarding the petition and in June of that year the Court partially granted the petition. Effective January 2020, counties were ordered to pay more than twice the hourly rate. Although this only impacted those attorneys appointed by the Court for overflow cases, the court action led the legislature to increase the rate for conflict representation (in addition to compensation for primary public defenders).

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