MIDC Summer 2017 Update

The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission met on June 20, 2017.  In addition to a full business agenda, the Commission received a report from staff regarding system reform efforts statewide.  The MIDC has published several documents to assist with compliance planning for the first four standards for indigent criminal defense systems which were approved by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) this spring.  Those first four standards cover training and education of counsel, the initial client interview, use of investigation and experts, and counsel at first appearance and other critical stages.  Every court funding unit in Michigan is required to submit a plan for compliance with the first four standards for indigent defense, along with a cost analysis, to the MIDC no later than November 20, 2017.

The full text of the approved standards can be found on the MIDC’s website.  This link includes the first four standards as well as the next set of proposed minimum standards for indigent criminal defense services.  These next standards address the need for independence from the judiciary, defender workload limitations, and qualification and review of attorneys accepting assignments in adult criminal cases.  The MIDC is also finalizing a proposed standard on economic disincentives and incentives which will be published later this year for comment.  Systems are encouraged to look at the next standards when planning for compliance, and consider the feasibility of larger scale system reform.

Resources that are helpful for compliance planning include:

  • A Guide for Submission of Compliance Plans, Cost Analyses, and Local Share Calculations, designed to answer questions from funding units to prepare documents to submit to the MIDC, available here.
  • Answers to the most frequently asked questions from funding units, in a shorter handout form, available on the MIDC’s “helpful information” tab on the standards page.
  • Regional Managers are on staff to provide direction and guidance to indigent defense delivery systems around the state on compliance with MIDC-enacted standards.  See the MIDC’s website for the managers assigned to a particular region on this map.
  • Systems interested in large scale reform such as creating a public defender office or a managed assigned counsel system will want to review the MIDC’s guide, Delivery System Reform Models: Planning Improvements in Public Defense, available online on our resources page.
  • Stakeholders should review white papers prepared for each of the first four standards describing background information as well as details for implementing each standard.
  • A report detailing the progress in Huron County piloting a counsel at first appearance project is available on the MIDC’s website along with other reports from data collection.

The Commission has announced the availability of limited grant funds for local governments that fund trial courts to initiate projects that address best practices, improvements, or innovations to the local delivery of indigent defense services.  Grants will be awarded up to $80,000 for one year beginning October 1, 2017.  Separate from permanent compliance planning, these grants allow for local governments to pursue innovative projects to immediately improve indigent defense.  Read the announcement and all of the latest news on the MIDC’s website.

In 2016, the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission gathered basic information from attorneys on their experiences in indigent defense.  The responses that we received documented the prevalence of inadequate compensation in indigent defense systems across the state.  That report is now published on the MIDC’s website: Attorney Perspectives on Michigan’s Criminal Indigent Defense System: A Report of the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (June 2017).

As a follow up, the MIDC is seeking more in-depth information about attorney compensation and costs.  ALL CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEYS are asked to take approximately 10 minutes to provide this valuable information to the MIDC no later than July 3, 2017.  These experiences will directly inform the development of the MIDC’s proposed Standard 8, Economic Disincentives or Incentives.  The MIDC is interested in perspectives even if attorneys do not currently take or never have taken court-appointed cases.  All responses are ANONYMOUS.  The survey can be accessed here.

he 2016 survey of defense attorneys also revealed concerns over the case assignment process and a lack of independence from the judiciary.  The concerns led the MIDC’s Research Unit to investigate the distribution of case assignments across circuit courts in Michigan to assess the prevalence of imbalance in the assignment process.  Eight circuits were selected for the study, which revealed that the majority of courts examined do not consistently appoint attorneys on a balanced rotational basis even when their assignment processes appear, on paper, to be independent and fair:  “In some instances, there are extreme differences between the top and bottom portion of attorneys accepting cases.”  That research brief is available on the MIDC’s website.

The MIDC will meet next on July 31, 2017 for a special additional meeting in advance of compliance plan deadlines.  The Commission meets at 1:00 p.m. in Lansing and all meetings are open to the public.  Information about upcoming meetings, or agendas and minutes from prior meetings can be found here.  We will continue to post progress about our work and any other developments about indigent defense in Michigan on our website as well.


Marla McCowan

Director of Training, Outreach & Support