The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission is moving quickly this spring, and we have a newly launched website now serving as the main resource to learn about our policies, standards and resources as we carry out the mission of improving indigent defense delivery systems statewide. The website is an important start to informing the criminal justice community and poor people charged with crimes about the steps we are taking to improve representation and to help ensure Michigan meets its constitutional obligations.
Our website launched June 1st
In addition to the statutory requirements to compile online versions of the Commission’s policies and reports, the MIDC will post on its website news and noteworthy issues, information about meetings and upcoming events, and links to helpful resources. The site will also be used to post proposed minimum standards for indigent defense, dates of public hearings, compliance models and plans and the process for seeking grant funding after a plan is approved.
The Commission met on June 9, 2015 and discussed the language of the first four standards being proposed now that the committee work is complete. Those standards cover the following areas: Education and Training of Defense Counsel, Initial Attorney/Client Interview, Investigation and Expert Witnesses, and Timing for Appointment of Counsel. All of the standards proposed are taken directly from, or contemplated in, the language of the MIDC Act.
Standard 1- education and training of defense counsel
For education and training: the proposed minimum standard will focus on the Ninth Principle of the American Bar Association’s Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System, that a public defense system, in order to provide effective assistance of counsel, must ensure that “[D]efense counsel is provided with and required to attend continuing legal education.” The standard will require knowledge of the law, knowledge of forensic and scientific issues, knowledge of technology, and will contain continuing legal education requirements for counsel providing indigent defense.
Standard 2 -initial interview
The initial client interview standard will focus on United States Supreme Court Precedent and ABA Principles that recognize that the “lack of time for adequate preparation and the lack of privacy for attorney-client consultation [can preclude] any lawyer from providing effective advice.” See U.S. v. Morris, 470 F.3d 596, 602 (6th Cir. 2006). The standard will require a prompt interview of a client in a confidential setting.
Standard 3 - investigation and experts
The standard for experts and investigators will address the United States and Michigan Supreme Court holdings that require trial counsel to adequately investigate and seek appropriate expert assistance for the defense. The standard will require counsel to request funds for adequate investigation and use of expert witnesses.
Standard 4 - appointment of counsel at first appearance
The proposed minimum standard on timing for appointment of counsel will reflect the U.S. Supreme Court holding that assistance of counsel is required at critical stages of proceedings, starting with when a defendant’s liberty is subject to restriction by the court. The standard will require availability of counsel at first appearance in front of a judge or magistrate and at the pre-trial stage.