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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: February 22, 2019 10:18 AM
From: Representative Joanna E. McClinton
To: All House members
Subject: Over 50 Years After Gideon - Time for Pennsylvania to Fund Indigent Legal Defense
In 1963, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright that free counsel for criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire an attorney is mandated upon the states by the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution. After nearly sixty years, Pennsylvania is the only state that does not appropriate funds to assist counties in supplying free counsel to indigent criminal defendants. Pennsylvania needs to appropriate funds to comply with the Gideon decision by creating and funding a center to support the delivery of services to these criminal defendants.

In December 2011, the Joint State Government Commission issued a report “A Constitutional Default: Services to Indigent Criminal Defendants in Pennsylvania.” The commission’s Advisory Committee on Services to Indigent Criminal Defendants concluded that Pennsylvania was not meeting the Gideon constitutional mandate. The commission’s report proposed a statewide agency to oversee indigent criminal defense services. In the spirit of that report but recognizing fiscal realities, my legislation is based on a scaled back proposal from the Pennsylvania Coalition for Justice.

This legislation would establish the Pennsylvania Center for Effective Indigent Defense Legal Representation. A board of directors, which will be representative of the criminal defense bar, will oversee the operation of the center. The center will exist as an independent agency or be affiliated with a Pennsylvania school of law. The center will perform the following duties:
  1. Develop and provide continuing education, training and skills development programs and resources for public defender staff attorneys, assigned counsel and contract public defenders representing indigent criminal defendants;
  2. Establish and maintain programs for capital case defense skills training, adult criminal defense training, juvenile delinquency defense training, and management and leadership training for chief defenders and public defender office leaders;
  3. Establish a virtual defender training library consisting of all of the programs generated by the training programs sponsored through the center; and
  4. Contract with one or more nonprofit organizations to assist the center in providing any of its duties and responsibilities including any of the education, training and skills development programs.
The legislation appropriates the sum of $1 million for the upcoming fiscal year to establish the center. This appropriation will relieve Pennsylvania of its unique position of being the only state not providing funds to help underwrite indigent criminal defense services. The center will also seek supplemental funding from federal and private sources.

My bill will allow Pennsylvania to follow in the footsteps of the other 49 states in the nation that already appropriate funds to assist counties to supply free counsel to indigent criminal defendants. I ask that you please join me in supporting this much-needed legislation.

Introduced as HB1217