Indigent Defense

According to NACDL’s recent report surveying the various methods utilized by states to determine when an individual is indigent and entitled to appointed counsel, a majority of the states look to the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG) to find out whether a defendant qualifies for court-appointed counsel. On the surface, it would seem that this might be an objective yardstick of indigence, but in practice it proves to be prone to manipulation in myriad ways. For example, states can drastically reduce the number of eligible defendants by pegging eligibility to an unreasonably low multiple of the FPG, resulting in a self-created constitutional escape hatch absolving states from having to provide counsel to individuals making as little as $11,670 annually. The report, Redefining Indigence: Financial Eligibility Guidelines for Assigned Counsel, is available on NACDL’s website.