Improving Indigent Defense


According to numerous studies, for years, the state of Michigan failed residents in the area of providing competent legal representation to people who could not afford legal counsel in the criminal courts. A study by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association in June, 2008 painted a bleak picture for criminal defendants.

The year-long study of indigent legal services in 10 Michigan counties was conducted in a partnership with the State Bar of Michigan and on behalf of the Michigan Legislature. Issues uncovered in the study included: the failure to ensure public defenders were shielded from undue judicial interference, the failure to manage public defender workloads, failure to provide sufficient time and confidential space for attorney-client meetings, failure to require that attorneys have adequate experience and training to match the complexity of the case, inadequate compensation for attorneys, and a lack of sufficient time, training, investigators experts and resources to prepare a case.

This study followed the filing of a class-action lawsuit by the ACLU and its coalition partners, called Duncan V, Granholm. According to the ACLU, the suit was filed to encourage the state to fix the well-known problems in Michigan's indigent defense system; including the lack of administrative oversight of funding for public defense at the trial level, no training for public defense attorneys, no performance standards, and insufficient resources to hire outside investigators or experts. The case had a rocky road in the courts. It was challenged by the state, which asked the courts to dismiss the case while contending that the counties, not the state, were responsible for the system's deficiencies. The Supreme Court dismissed the case in July 2010, but reinstated the order and sent it back to the Ingham County Circuit court to rule on the merits of the case.


In October 2011, then-Governor Rick Snyder issued an executive order establishing a commission to improve Michigan's system for providing legal defense to poor people in criminal cases.


In June 2012, the Governor's Indigent Defense Advisory Commission issued a report that acknowledged the problems and outlined ways for the legislature to address the problems.


In July 2013, the Michigan Legislature enacted the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission Act that created the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. The commission sets minimum standards for training, the appointment of legal counsel, performance monitoring, and ensures that competent legal counsel is provided to indigent defendants across the state.

For information on how Monroe County is in compliance with the standards set forth by the MIDC Act, see the Monroe County MIDC Compliance Plan page.