Michigan Indigent Defense Commission July 2015

Just a few weeks ago, the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) released the first set of proposed minimum standards for the local delivery of indigent criminal defense services. These standards involve education and training, the initial client interview, experts and investigators, and counsel at first appearance in front of a judge or magistrate. We selected these initial standards because they are either required by the statute or supported by United States Supreme Court precedent. MCL 780.989(1). We also wanted to start with a set of standards that would be amenable to the creation of lasting and measurable improvements in the criminal defense of people who cannot afford counsel. Among other topics, future standards will tackle caseloads, qualifications, compensation, and independence of the indigent defense function from the judiciary.

These standards were distributed widely for comment to multiple criminal defense attorneys and associations, as well as to judges, prosecutors, legislators and other system stakeholders. MIDC staff has spoken with many groups about the first set of proposed standards either as part of our work, in connection with a training event, or in a meeting designed specifically to answer questions about the future of indigent defense in counties across Michigan. All comments about the standards that have been formally submitted will be posted to the MIDC’s website, and any comments received prior to the public hearing will be considered by the Commission. We encourage everyone who is interested to e-mail comments on the standards to info@michiganidc.gov or mail them to 200 N. Washington Square, Lansing, MI 48933 no later than August 7, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. to ensure distribution to the full Commission.

The MIDC will hold a public hearing on these standards on August 18th at 1:00 PM at the Lansing campus of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. Video conference equipment will also allow participation from the Cooley Auburn Hills and Grand Rapids locations. If you would like the MIDC staff to speak to your group prior to the public hearing, please contact us to schedule a discussion.

Following the public hearing, the MIDC will submit standards to the Michigan Supreme Court, who will conduct their own review and comment process. When the Court approves standards, the MIDC will work with courts and government units to select compliance plans for these standards. We expect the compliance plans to be due in late 2016 based on deadlines set in the MIDC Act. The State of Michigan is then required to fund the plans. We look forward to watching this important process succeed.

This past week the MIDC also started its statutorily-mandated data collection efforts with the distribution of the first-ever comprehensive survey to measure the delivery of criminal justice for indigent defendants in Michigan. This initial survey seeks to gather details on current practices in the state’s court systems to help MIDC better understand and map the legal landscape for indigent defendants in Michigan. More specifically, the survey gives courts the opportunity to provide information about types of indigent defense systems, eligibility for counsel, process for appointment of counsel, and public defense expenditures. The questions only involve trial level indigent criminal defense for adults. The information that we gather in this first survey will inform the development of statewide standards for public defense.

The survey itself will be completed online by a court administrator, but could also be submitted by a judge, chief public defender or the person charged with maintaining the data related to the assignment of counsel in their court. To see the complete survey, please go to the MIDC’s website where a .pdf copy is available, along with a message from MIDC Chair, Hon. James Fisher.

Above left, Jonathan speaks at the CDAM conference. The MIDC attended two events in Macomb County this month, at the courthouse (above, right) and at the jail. Also pictured above is the courtyard of the Berrien County Administration Center.

In addition to traveling around the state to talk about the MIDC, Executive Director Jonathan Sacks received scholarship funding to attend the National Association for Public Defense’s Executive Leadership Institute at Valparaiso at the end of June, and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association’s conference of Chief Defenders in Washington D.C. in July. Jonathan was also invited to be the introductory speaker at the summer conference for the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan. The CDAM conference focused on search and seizure topics but was a terrific venue to start a discussion about best practices for criminal defense as well as an opportunity to hear from attorneys around the state with questions and suggestions for the MIDC’s work. Jonathan also spoke in Berrien and Macomb about possibilities for compliance plans and models for providing indigent defense services in those counties. MIDC staff also attended Macomb County’s criminal justice reform committee meeting where several members of the criminal justice community were present and discussed real plans for improvement.

In June, Governor Snyder signed an omnibus budget bill that included funding for the 2015-2016 fiscal year that begins October 1, 2015. The MIDC was appropriated $996,700. After working with legislators in the House and Senate, MIDC was able to have language added to the budget that will allow the agency to receive federal grant funding and funding through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program. MIDC continuously evaluates grant opportunities and plans to apply for funding in the future.

The MIDC is very pleased to be making real progress in terms of proposing standards, beginning data collection, and working with groups around the state who are serious about making critical changes to indigent defense. Please contact us to request a meeting or visit – we will continue to travel and talk with interested groups as our work progresses.


Marla McCowan

Director of Training, Outreach and Support


(517) 388-6702

Created By
Marla McCowan
Cover photo is of the ski lift at the Otsego Club & Resort where the CDAM training was conducted. Photographs by M. McCowan and J. Sacks.

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