Posted by Edmond Geary | Posted in Constitutional rights, Criminal defense, Justice system, Legal rights | Posted on 15-12-2009
As the economy continues to struggle in Oklahoma, revenues to the state come in at lower levels than last year. The state must therefore cut expenditures. All state agencies are now planning a five percent reduction in spending. Some projects may do worse.
One of these is the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System. It pays for the defense of those accused of crimes who cannot afford their own lawyer. The Indigent Defense System pays for attorneys and some investigators in separate departments, broken down into cases involving charges of capital crimes and non-capital crimes, and broken down for trials and for appeals for both capital and non-capital.
The capital division, for those charged with cases facing the death penalty, is adequately funded. Funding for non-capital crimes is less sure.
Capital crimes are probably more certainly funded because any failure in representation in these cases will likely result in a reversal on appeal and the necessity to try cases all over again. And capital cases are already costly for the state to prosecute due to the courts’ demands for detailed and careful proceedings when such an extreme penalty is at issue.
The Indigent Defense System says it needs $1million more in funding, and the legislature is looking everywhere in its budget for the money. One pot of money the legislature is now considering shifting the Indigent Defense System is the funding the legislature gives to Legal Aid of Oklahoma.
The state is not required to fund Legal Aid, which provides legal services of a non-criminal nature to those who truly unable to afford legal services. Legal Aid guidelines are strict and their income level required for someone to be represented is demandingly low. But Legal Aid does have other funding sources, and the legislature is not required to fund Legal Aid. The legislature is required to fund Indigent Defense, required by the constitution, which could ultimately be enforced by the federal courts.
As criminal defense lawyers well know, attorneys appointed by the Indigent Defense System have a heavy workload. There are always plenty of people charged with crimes who have no money to pay a lawyer. But now that workload is increasing.
During the 2009 budget year which ended last June 30, the staff of criminal defense attorneys who work for the indigent defense office handled 39,369 cases. Estimates are for an increase to approximately 44,100 cases by the end of the 2010 budget year.
The legislature may not get to use the money from Legal Aid for indigent defense, however. The legislature and the governor agreed earlier this year on the funding levels for indigent defense and Legal Aid, and the governor’s office is sticking with that agreement. For now, that means the legislature will have to look elsewhere for its $1,000,000 funding shortfall for indigent defense for next year.