Home News Center Michigan Member Organization Helps Pass Indigent Defense Reform Bill, Calls for Further Reform for Youth

Michigan Member Organization Helps Pass Indigent Defense Reform Bill, Calls for Further Reform for Youth

July 9, 2013
Kristen Staley

Michelle Weemhoff, Associate Director of MCCD

On July 1, 2013 Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD)--an NJJN member--celebrated a big victory as Gov. Snyder signed into law legislation (HB 4529 and SB 300) creating an independent and permanent Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. The commission is the first step towards fixing Michigan’s broken defense system.

Michigan's county-driven public defense system is currently plagued by high case loads, a lack of oversight, and inadequate funding and training for defense attorneys. In fact, the State Bar of Michigan has found that “indigent criminal defense as a whole in Michigan falls far short of accepted standards, undermining the quality of justice, jeopardizing public safety, and creating large and avoidable costs.”

The new commission is charged with establishing, enforcing, and overseeing statewide public defense standards to ensure effective assistance of counsel for individuals tried or sentenced in adult courts. Specifically, the 16-person commission will develop a set of standard procedures that each local jurisdiction must follow, including training for defense counsel, case load limits, and requirements for indigence.

The landmark legislation is a significant victory for MCCD, which has been at the forefront of reforming Michigan's public defense system for over a decade. In 2001, it convened the Michigan Public Defense Task Force and more recently formed the Campaign for Justice, a separate organizaton to coordinate efforts across the state.

Nonetheless, Michelle Weemhoff, Associate Director of MCCD said there is still work to be done. Missing from the new law are specific standards for defending indigent youth. And, as bad as Michigan’s adult indigent defense system may be, the juvenile defense system is considered much worse.

Each year, thousands of children enter Michigan’s juvenile justice system. “The representation of children in delinquency proceedings is a complex specialty in the law that is different from, but just as important as the representation of adults in criminal proceedings. It is absolutely necessary to give consideration to the unique characteristics of juvenile defense when discussing the need for reform,” Weemhoff said.

MCCD’s next steps are to support a statewide assessment of the juvenile defense system and development of Michigan juvenile defense standards.

“Adequate legal representation during delinquency proceedings ensures that a young person’s constitutional rights are upheld and that appropriate services are provided, "Weemhoff said. "It can also mean turning the page in a youth’s life toward rehabilitation.”


Photo: Michelle Weemhoff, Associate Director of MCCD.

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