Idaho Public Defense

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Tucker v. Idaho

In June 2015 a class action lawsuit was filed alleging Idaho's current public defense system violates the state and federal right to counsel because it is overburdened and under resourced. issues raised include whether workload standards should be established and if so, what those standards should be; the use of fixed fee contracts which disincentivize trials and investigation (according to data from the Public Defense Commission, in 19 of 44 counties, contract attorneys utilized zero dollars for investigator services in FY17); the lack of trials (with some counties reporting no trials having occurred in FY17), and the lack of political and judicial independence.

Initial litigation addressed issues relating to the case being able to proceed on the merits, were initially resolved in favor of the State by the Idaho Court of Appeals.NACDL, in partnership with its Idaho affiliate, IADCLfiled an amicus brief in support of Tucker as did the United States Department of Justice. In April 2017, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, permitting the case to go forward. The ruling determined the plaintiffs were not required to wait for the cases to conclude and then bring individual claims for ineffective assistance of counsel, but could pursue, as a class, a prospective claim for the denial of counsel due to systemic failures.

After certifying the class, both sides sought summary judgment, with the trial court denying both noting the significant areas of factual dispute. The court, thereafter, on its own motion, requested the Idaho Supreme Court to grant an interlocutory appeal to address the question of what standard should be applied to a systemic challenge. Tucker asserts their burden is to establish that the current policies and practices create a substantial risk that defendant’s right to counsel will be violated. The defendants assert that the plaintiffs must show actual or constructive denial of counsel did occur and are continuing to occur through the state. The parties are awaiting further direction from the Supreme Court to brief and argue the issue.

While the lawsuit has been pending, the state has passed several bills targeting improvements, including in March 2016: the allocation of $5 million in new public defense funding in the form of grants to be distributed by the PD Commission to localities to support trial level services and authorizing the PD Commission to develop and enforce performance standards.

NACDL-IACDL Amicus Brief  DOJ Amicus Brief


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