A Report by the Utah Indigent Defense Commission
Created in 2016, the Utah Indigent Defense Commission (IDC) works to protect constitutionally guaranteed liberties through ongoing support for the provision of effective indigent defense services throughout the state. In 2017, Juab County was the first recipient of an IDC grant award to make structural improvements to indigent defense services through a partnership with state and local stakeholders. The focus of this report is the structural improvements made to indigent defense services in Juab County as a result of this partnership.
Through a commitment to quality public defense, Juab County has seen measured improvements to its indigent defense system. Improvements include an increase in the indigent defense budget, allocating funds for defense resources such as investigators and appeals, contracting with qualified and specialized defense attorneys, and providing independent oversight and monitoring outside of the prosecution or judiciary. Additionally, the IDC grant model first implemented in Juab County has led to one of Utah’s first regionalized indigent defense models under the leadership of Utah County Public Defender’s Office (UTCPD).
- 86% increase to the indigent defense budget.
- $67,000 allocation specifically for defense resources.
- Independent oversight and monitoring, including tracking appointed cases.
- 12% increase in appointment at initial appearance.
- 5 – 10% increase in bail modifications.
- 8% increase in days spent on indigent defense cases by attorneys.
- Independent administration of the indigent defense budget, outside of the prosecution or judiciary.
- Specialized attorneys appearing in District, Juvenile, and Drug Courts.
- 150% increase in the number of appeals filed.
- Reduced conflicts of interest as a result of splitting cases among attorneys.
- Contracting with qualified attorneys who are “vigorously defending cases.”
- Appropriate compensation to avoid financial disincentives in representation.
- In 2017, the total budget for indigent defense in Juab County increased by approximately 86% ($116,230) to provide comprehensive indigent defense services including funds for an increase in the number of defense attorneys and appropriate compensation for those attorneys. In addition to increasing the overall budget for indigent defense, money was allocated specifically for defense resources and other expenses (e.g. transcripts, appeals, translators, etc.) The total budget for defense resources increased by approximately 148% ($40,000).
- There has been a decrease in the number of instances in which a prosecutor appears at a court appearance but no defense attorney appears, indicating that defense attorneys are appearing in court more often to represent their clients. This corresponds to an approximate 26% increase in the number of cases in which defense counsel appeared at arraignment, sentencing, or both. Defense counsel is also spending more consecutive days on a case, with an 8% increase in the longest period of the same attorney appearing on a case.
- By the end of March 2017 (only three months into the grant) authorization had been given to use the designated appellate budget for an appeal on at least two cases. At the end of November 2017, there were five appeals utilizing this budget in Juab County (a 150% increase over the previous year).
- Good public defense begins with good public defenders – meaning those maintaining active bar licenses, in good standing with the Utah State Bar, and with a wealth of experience and qualifications. With the increase in budget provided by the IDC grant, Juab County was able to contract with defense attorneys who meet and exceed these criteria. The Juab County Attorney’s office has continually emphasized how these attorneys are “vigorously defending cases.”
- While still a system in progress, the Juab County Attorney’s office believes that there “has been a significant and dramatic improvement in the quality of
representationindigent defendants are receiving.” As a result, Juab County and the IDC have committed to a partnership through December 2020 to continue indigent defense improvements. These improvements include separate funds for travel and defense attorney training, a full-time social worker, a full-time administrative assistant, and an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for defense attorneys.