Michigan Indigent Defense

Reports & Papers 

Duncan v. State of Michigan Materials 

The State of Indigent Defense In Michigan

Michigan’s public defense system does not guarantee the effective assistance of counsel required by the Sixth Amendment. Like many other states, Michigan delegates responsibility for providing indigent defense to individual counties. There is no state training for public defense attorneys, no performance standards to govern their practice, and no review of their performance. The lack of state funding and supervision has resulted in a public defense system that is widely considered an embarrassment. In 2008, after an extensive investigation, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association issued a report that concluded that Michigan’s systems were some of the nation’s worst.

This patchwork system fails to meet the standards promulgated by the American Bar Association for the delivery of indigent defense. Among other things, these county-based systems do not insulate attorneys from local judges and politicians and do not provide them with necessary training, supervision, compensation, manageable workloads and access to expert witnesses and investigators.

While the NACDL has previously supported attempts to reform Michigan’s indigent defense system through litigation, those efforts have been unsuccessful as the Michigan Supreme Court has found that the responsibility for enacting reform rests with the legislature. The NACDL continues to work with organizations like The Michigan Campaign for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union to advocate for systemic change that will address the deficiencies in Michigan’s public defense system so that every indigent person charged with a crime in Michigan is no longer at risk of receiving constitutionally inadequate legal assistance. 


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