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Panel approving local criminal defense plans

More local governments are getting money to create better systems to make sure every criminal defendant has a properly trained lawyer through every step of the legal process.

Local courts resubmitted their proposals after the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission rejected most of the funding requests back in January.  This time, most of the re-worked plans won board approval.

Judge Thomas Boyd is a commission member. He said the need to ensure adequate representation is so great, the board must make sure none of the money is wasted.

“This is a constitutionally mandated service,” he said. “It needs to be done, but we do not want to waste even one dime.”

Mike Puerner is the board chair. He said one of the issues that had to be settled is whether local governments can get more money to pay prosecutors who will have more work. The board said “no” to those plans.

“We’ve examined that issue within our statutory jurisdiction,” he said, “and determined that while that may be true in reality, it’s not part of the plans that need to be funded through our standards.”

Half a dozen jurisdictions will have to re-submit plans after they were rejected. The reconfigured plans will be considered at the commission’s April meeting.

Michigan’s indigent defense law sets training standards and requires an attorney to be present at every step of the legal process.

Joe Haveman is a board member who also worked on the issue as a state lawmaker.

“I think this is a step in the right direction to making sure our indigent population has adequate representation, that we don’t make mistakes on locking up someone falsely or for longer periods than they need,” he said.

Before this, Michigan did not have consistent standards for training and appearances by defense lawyers. The state’s patchwork of local rules was considered one of the worst systems in the country.