Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice William Maupin has announced the creation of a commission to study the way legal assistance is provided for criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire their own attorneys.
Chief Justice Maupin said the Commission on Indigent Defense, which is the second Supreme Court commission to be announced in two weeks, will study the issue statewide.
The Commission will be chaired by Justice Michael Cherry, who had a history of public sector criminal defense service before becoming a judge. Chief Justice Maupin will be an ex officio member.
"The Supreme Court believes deeply in the principle that all indigent defendants should be provided effective attorney representation so their rights are preserved and the integrity of the court system is protected," Chief Justice Maupin said.
Justice Cherry added that "when court appointed attorneys are ineffective or inadequate, it sometimes results in cases being reversed and new trials ordered. "That is costly for taxpayers and an additional burden on the court system. The best solution is to have competent, experienced, and effective attorneys available to represent indigent defendants."
Systems for providing representation for those unable to afford their own attorneys range from state and county public defender offices to contract attorneys and court appointed lawyers.
Problems arise when a case has multiple defendants and each defendant requires a separate attorney unconnected to attorneys for the other defendants. It is not unusual in criminal cases for defendants to request public funded attorneys.
Chief Justice Maupin noted that while the indigent defense issue has become controversial in Clark County, the problem is also acute in rural counties where attorneys are rare. Attorneys in rural conflict cases often must be brought in from urban centers.
"This Commission will address the issue from a statewide standpoint so we can determine what works best for each area, given the available resources," he said. "We are aware of the costs involved and hope the Commission weighs the needs of the justice system and the resource requirements."
"What is most important is that we have a criminal justice system that effectively serves the needs of the defendants, the courts, and the public," Chief Justice Maupin said.