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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: December 4, 2018 10:49 PM
From: Senator Patrick M. Browne
To: All Senate members
Subject: Indigent Defense Legal Representation

I intend to introduce legislation that was introduced last session by Senator Greenleaf as Senate Bill 61, regarding indigent defense legal representation.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963) 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 fifty years Pennsylvania is the only state that does not appropriate funds to assist counties in complying with the Gideon constitutional mandate. In September 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recognized this constitutional deficiency in Kuren v. Luzerne County and decided that criminal defendants may sue counties for having dedicated insufficient resources to public defenders. What was a criminal justice problem will now become an even heavier budgetary burden.

The legislation that I will be reintroducing will establish the Pennsylvania Center for Effective Indigent Defense Legal Representation. A board of directors which is representative of the criminal defense bar will oversee the operation of the center. The center may 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.
(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 is small in comparison to the costs of longer sentences and greater recidivism, which are the demonstrated consequences of inadequate legal representation. This appropriation will spare the counties from being sued under the Kuren decision and relieve Pennsylvania of its unique position of being the only state not providing funds to help underwrite indigent criminal defense services. The center also will seek supplemental funding from federal and private sources.

In December 2011 the Joint State Government Commission issued a report “A Constitutional Default: Services to Indigent Criminal Defendants in Pennsylvania.” Drawing heavily from a study published in 2003 by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias, the commission’s Advisory Committee on Services to Indigent Criminal Defendants concluded that Pennsylvania was not meeting the Gideon constitutional mandate.

The Joint State Government Commission 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. The coalition includes many of the members of the commission’s advisory committee and it recommends a center that will provide training and education to providers of indigent criminal defense services. This center will contract with proven, established training and education providers to build program agendas and curricula that meet national standards and improve the quality and delivery of indigent criminal defense services throughout Pennsylvania.

Cosponsors of Senate Bill 61 last session included Senators Leach, Brewster, Farnese, Baker, Haywood, Costa, Hughes, Street and Fontana.

Introduced as SB658