91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Report: Many courts fall short in ensuring proper defense for poor

Judge's gavel
Flickr user Joe Gratz
The Michigan Supreme Court will choose a new Supreme Court Chief Justice today

A survey of courts across the state has found gaps in what’s being done to ensure poor defendants get proper legal assistance from public defenders.


The survey found big differences in how public defenders are retained, paid, and trained. Some courts don’t have private spaces for attorneys to meet with defendants.

And most jurisdictions don’t require attorneys to show up for arraignments and bail hearings. That matters because that’s the first time a judge will decide whether a defendant goes to jail or remains free.


“Different counties and courts are all over the place in every single area,” said Jonathan Sacks with the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission.

Sacks says the shortcomings put a lot of indigent defendants at risk of unnecessary incarceration.

“It’s the very first time that somebody facing charges is going to be in front of the criminal justice system, and it’s where a judge or a magistrate will make a decision on their liberty,” he said.


The Michigan Supreme Court will hold a hearing in May and is supposed to adopt statewide standards for indigent defense by early July. 

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.