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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: December 10, 2018 09:21 AM
From: Senator Daylin Leach
To: All Senate members
Subject: State Training for Public Defenders
Soon I will reintroduce Senator Stewart Greenleaf’s legislation to establish the Pennsylvania Center for Effective Indigent Defense Legal Representation. This legislation will bring Pennsylvania into compliance with the Gideon constitutional mandate and protect counties from lawsuits related to the 2016 Kuren decision.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), that states must provide counsel for criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire an attorney. Fifty-five years later, Pennsylvania is the only state that does not appropriate funds to assist counties in complying with the Gideon constitutional mandate. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recognized this constitutional deficiency in Kuren v. Luzerne County, 637 Pa. 33 (2016), holding that criminal defendants may sue Pennsylvania’s counties for dedicating insufficient resources to public defenders.

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

Specifically, this legislation creates the Pennsylvania Center for Effective Indigent Defense Legal Representation. The center will perform the following duties:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Establish a virtual defender training library consisting of all the programs generated by the training programs sponsored through the center.
  • 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. The center will also be permitted to seek supplemental funding from federal and private sources.

This bill was known as Senate Bill 61 during the 2017-2018 session. I cosponsored it alongside Senators Brewster, Farnese, Baker, Haywood, Costa, Hughes, Browne, Street, and Fontana.

Please join me in supporting this important legislation. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.