Appeals court says indigent defense case must move ahead

East Lansing, MI – The state will have to defend Michigan's patchwork system for ensuring legal representation for criminal defendants who can't afford to pay attorneys. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the case must move forward.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled the state cannot claim government immunity from the lawsuit. The appeals court did not rule on the central question, which is whether indigent defendants are being denied their constitutional right to adequate legal counsel. But the court said the right to counsel is so basic and so essential that the issue must be addressed.

Michigan leaves it up to each county to decide how it will compensate public defenders and the rates are typically among the lowest in the country.

The plaintiffs say that means public defenders are unable to spend the time and recourses needed to represent their clients. They say public defenders also need more training. A report released a year ago says Michigan has one of the worst public defender systems in the country.

The state could still appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.