OSB Indigent Defense Task Force III Report

Introduction  •  Types of Providers  •  Staffing  •  Training  •  Geographic Analysis  •  Types of Cases  •  Post Conviction Proceedings  •  Conclusions, Goals and Recommendations


The theme that arose again and again, throughout our many interviews, was that funding is the key to fulfilling the state's obligation to provide adequate representation to people charged with crimes or facing other serious restrictions of their liberties. Although some mechanisms exist for promoting high quality indigent defense services, those mechanisms are dependent, finally, on a provider organization's ability to fund them. Supervision and training require time, and that time can only be provided when adequate funding is available. Perhaps most importantly, based on the responses we received from participants across the criminal justice spectrum, sufficient funding must be available to adequately staff provider organizations so that caseloads do not overwhelm the ability of individual attorneys to perform necessary services. This last factor was stressed so consistently that we conclude that high caseloads have become a serious problem in the state and are the most frequent cause of inadequate representation.

Overburdened attorneys are most likely to miss the opportunity to establish a client's innocence or to fail to develop effective disposition plans for a case. This issue is of particular concern to members of this Task Force because no quality control safeguards exist in many jurisdictions. The Indigent Defense Services Division does not conduct any formal monitoring for quality so no uniform procedure is utilized to assess the quality of indigent defense services across the state. The Indigent Defense Services Division does not have the budget to conduct comprehensive quality control checks. It occasionally solicits input from the local judiciary but those efforts have decreased significantly in recent years. For the most part, the Division’s quality control efforts consist of responding to problems brought to its attention. Survey participants noted a decrease in the Indigent Defense Services Division's monitoring of the quality of the services it administers. In particular jurisdictions, quality control mechanisms have developed as a matter of local practice. Statutory post conviction remedies exist but are not viewed as an adequate safeguard, for the most part, because the quality of representation afforded to post conviction petitioners is considered the most under-funded and least sufficient in the criminal justice system. In short, official monitoring and quality control procedures are almost non-existent and those that exist are not utilized in any consistent manner statewide.

Monitoring, in the view of this Task Force, is not an end in itself. Its goal is to assure consistently adequate legal representation. While the Task Force concludes that some form of statewide monitoring should be implemented to identify problems, it is important to consider whether that monitoring system will increase the workload of the affected providers and thus exacerbate the very problems the monitoring attempts to identify. In order to effectively implement a statewide monitoring system, additional funding for both the Indigent Defense Services Division and for providers may be needed.

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