Lansing State Journal Study: Michigan Counties Spend At Least $108 Million More On Prosecution Than On Indigent Defense

Counties Seek $87 Million to Comply with New State Standards for Indigent Defense
A recent study by the Lansing State Journal finds that Michigan counties currently spend “at least $108 million more” on prosecuting people accused of crimes than they do on providing constitutionally required representation for persons who cannot afford a lawyer. One Michigan county spends 20 times more, the study reports. The study is based on grant requests submitted to the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC), which the Journal obtained through a FOIA request. The MIDC was created by the Legislature in 2013 to address the inadequacy of Michigan’s system for providing defense counsel to poor defendants, which, in a 2008 report, was ranked as one of the worst in the country. Following its legislative mandate, the MIDC has created a set of state standards for providing constitutionally adequate representation for indigent defendants. Eighty-two Michigan counties have submitted grant requests to the MIDC seeking state funding to help them meet the standards. The Commission will submit a figure for funding counties’ efforts to Governor Snyder for his 2019 state budget request. The grant requests from counties currently amount to over $87 million.

The counties’ hefty grant requests reflect how “woefully underfunded” indigent defense in Michigan is now, according to Indigent Defense Commissioner Tom McMillen. “It literally means that they are admitting that they have sent many innocent Michigan citizens to prison,” said McMillen, a former Republican legislator who helped write the law creating the MIDC. A State Journal investigation in 2016 found that the inadequate funding for court-appointed attorneys was reflected in the poor services provided by those attorneys; they overwhelming negotiated pleas instead of going to trial, rarely filed motions to challenge the prosecution, and rarely requested independent experts to review the prosecution’s evidence. According to the National Exoneration Registry, inadequate legal representation was a factor in nearly half the exonerations in Michigan. Read the entire Lansing State Journal article on its study here.

Find the MIDC Standards for Indigent Defense here.