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State and County Expenditures for Indigent Defense Services in Fiscal Year 2002

NCJ Number
Robert L. Spangenberg; Marea L. Beeman; James Downing
Date Published
September 2003
39 pages
This document describes the indigent defense systems used in the 50 States, as well as the District of Columbia, and indicates any recent and significant changes to the systems.
The sixth amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees to all persons accused of crime the right to counsel in their defense, and requires the government to make counsel available for persons accused of crime that cannot afford to hire an attorney. States have responded to the Court’s mandate by developing a variety of systems through which indigent defense services are provided. The Supreme Court expanded the list of cases in which counsel must be appointed for indigent individuals in the 1960's. These cases include felonies, misdemeanors, and direct appeals for adults and in cases in which juveniles are tried as delinquents. Some non-criminal proceedings are also included. In many States, the right to counsel has been expanded by State statute or State supreme court decisions to include cases not addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court, such as capital postconviction cases or child support cases. Some States’ localities have created public defender programs to carry out these Federal and State mandates. Others use private attorneys that are appointed on a case-by-case basis or that work under contract accepting appointments. Most States use a combination of these methods. In some States, all funding for indigent defense services is provided by the State while in others funding is a shared responsibility among the States, counties, and municipalities. Pennsylvania and Utah are the only two States that leave the entire responsibility for funding indigent defense up to the counties. In Fiscal Year 2002, combined county, State, and Federal Government spending on indigent defense totaled an estimated $3.3 billion. Federal Government expenditure was almost half a billion dollars. The amounts spent by States on indigent defense vary a good deal. Some reasons for this are that States with the death penalty have hundreds of individuals on death row and see higher indigent defense costs, public defenders are paid higher salaries in some States, and the law in some States prohibits representation of co-defendants in all circumstances.