The right to an adequate defense has been recognized as a constitutional guarantee by the United State Supreme Court, and while states are required to provide access to public counsel, the quality of that public defense varies widely between jurisdictions. States have a duty to ensure that this right is protected by establishing statewide standards and oversight of public defense to ensure that counsel is available at all stages of criminal proceedings, counsel is independent of undue influence by other system actors, and that they are properly resourced to provide an adequate defense for their clients.
Does the state’s public defender system ensure the independence of appointed counsel?
Do public defenders have manageable caseloads and are they adequately resourced to provide an appropriate defense?
Does the state implement any statewide standards or oversight of public defense?
Access to All Stages
Are defendants provided counsel at all stages of the criminal process?
The state of Mississippi provides state public defense services for capital cases only, and the provision of public defense for other proceedings is provided by local jurisdictions.
This lack of state oversight creates a number of issues, including undue judicial influence on appointed counsel, lack of standards for provision of services, and lack of resources for defenders. Additionally, the state does not provide counsel at critical stages of criminal proceedings.
Counsel are appointed directly by local judges at their sole discretion, creating a problematic incentive structure that prevents independence for defenders.
Lack of state funding for felony defense counsel leave public defenders with high caseloads and limited training, making it exceedingly difficult for them to provide an adequate defense.
Statewide oversight is limited to the provision of defense services in capital cases.
Access at All Stages
The state does not provide access to defense services at the pre-arraignment stage, a critical time for defendants to access counsel.