Opinion writer

The Hoosier State is the latest to be subject to a rigorous study of its indigent defense system — and the latest state shown to come up short. A new study from the Sixth Amendment Center finds that Indiana . . .

  • Has no system to ensure indigent defense for misdemeanors in state, city or county courts.
  • In 37 of the state’s 92 counties, there’s no mechanism to ensure adequate indigent defense in felony cases and juvenile cases, both at trial and on direct appeal.
  • If it were run properly, the state actually has a decent system for indigent defense. But participation is voluntary, and the aforementioned 37 counties chose not to participate.
  • The “if it were run properly” catch is also a problem. The state has lagged on funding for the program, and just two full-time staffers oversee the 300+ city, county, state and appellate courts in the participating counties.
  • The state also has a reimbursement system for capital cases, but participation among the counties is, again, inconsistent.
  • The study found that at the local level, many jurisdictions in Indiana encourage defendants to negotiate directly with prosecutors before they’re granted a public defender.
  • The attorneys in the public defender system are have varying degrees of experience and qualifications, and the system lacks the resources to provide supervision and enforce training standards.
  • As in many jurisdictions, the study found that Indiana public defenders are overworked and spend an inadequate amount of time preparing for individual cases.

You can read the entire report here and the executive summary here. The Sixth Amendment Center website also has a handy state-by-state guide to indigent defense systems.