Municipal courts - provision of independent defense counsel to indigent defendants. The act requires each municipality, on and after January 1, 2020, to provide independent indigent defense for each indigent defendant facing a possible jail sentence for a violation of a municipal ordinance. Independent indigent defense requires, at minimum, that a nonpartisan entity independent of the municipal court and municipal officials oversee or evaluate indigent defense counsel. To satisfy this requirement, a municipality that contracts directly with one or more defense attorneys to provide counsel to indigent defendants shall ensure that:
- The process to select indigent defense attorneys is transparent and based on merit; and
- Each newly hired defense attorney is periodically evaluated by an independent entity for competency and independence. The municipality shall evaluate each newly hired defense attorney as soon as practicable but no later than one year after he or she is hired. Otherwise, the municipality shall evaluate each defense attorney at least every 3 years.
To ensure the quality of indigent defense counsel, a municipality may establish a local or regional independent indigent defense commission, which has the responsibility and exclusive authority to appoint and supervise indigent defense counsel and to discharge indigent defense counsel for cause.
The act sets forth an annual timeline by which a municipality may request and potentially receive the services of the office of alternate defense counsel to:
- Evaluate the provision of defense counsel to indigent defendants; or
- Provide a list of approved attorneys to be used for indigent defense during the next calendar year.
(Note: This summary applies to this bill as enacted.)