January 4, 2008
In an enormous step forward for indigent defense, the Nevada Supreme Court today issued a 72 page order calling for improvements in the way attorneys are provided to persons charged with crimes in that state who cannot afford private counsel. The order establishes performance standards for counsel, establishes a uniform definition and process for determining indigency, removes judges from the selection of attorneys, creates a statewide commission to oversee indigent defense practices, and requires all counties to collect uniform data for submission to the commission.
The Court stopped short of establishing hard caseload standards, but it did order two counties to conduct comprehensive case-weighting studies in the next six months, and set a hearing for September 2008, to review the studies and receive testimony on appropriate caseload standards.
The Order follows the publication of a blue-ribbon commission report on the state of indigent defense in Nevada and two days of testimony before the Nevada Supreme Court on the findings and recommendations of the commission. In December 2007, NACDL Indigent Defense Counsel, Malia Brink, conducted a site visit in rural Nevada and submitted testimony to Supreme Court regarding her findings and the need for immediate reform.
It is the first time a state Supreme Court has taken such bold, proactive steps to improve indigent defense services.
The Order and the Court's press release can be viewed here
NACDL's Testimony before the commission can be view here