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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ind. Courts - Death penalty a costly choice

Rebecca S. Green of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette had a long Sunday story on the Indiana Public Defender Council and the requirement that public defenders in capital cases be certified by the Indiana Public Defender Commission to handle a capital case. Some quotes:

Established in 1989 by the state legislature, the Public Defender Commission exists primarily to recommend standards for indigent defense in capital cases.

Counties that meet those standards can apply to the commission for reimbursement from the public defense fund in capital cases. Since 1997, that reimbursement can be up to 40 percent of a county’s cost for a death penalty case.

Deborah Neal, staff counsel at the Public Defender Commission, said the public defense of a capital case can cost a county between $200,000 and $800,000. Those numbers do not include other costs to the county, such as jury, prosecution and general court expenses, she said.

If a county prosecutor pursues the death penalty, and the court appoints public defenders to represent the accused and those attorneys are not certified by the Public Defender Commission, reimbursement is impossible, she said.

To be certified, the lead attorney must have at least five years of criminal trial experience, handled multiple felony cases and have experience in at least one case – as either lead or co-counsel – in which the death penalty has been sought, according to Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure. * * *

To serve as co-counsel, an attorney must have at least three years of criminal trial experience and have experience as co-counsel or lead counsel in at least three felony trials, according to the criminal procedure rules.

And both must have taken, within two years, the 12-hour course, from either the Indiana Public Defender Council or a number of other states and organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or the National Consortium for Capital Defense Training, according to the Public Defender Commission.

In recent years, the number of death penalty cases filed in the state has dropped, and the number of cases that resulted in a death penalty sentence is even less, according to state statistics.

In 2000, 11 death penalty cases were filed, with two death sentences handed out. In 2011, the number of capital cases filed was down to three, according to the Indiana Public Defender Council. * * *

Prosecutors are beginning to recognize that the death penalty is not always the best use of their dollars, said [Paula Sites, the Public Defender Council’s assistant executive director.]

And at the same time, defense attorneys are finding better ways to spend their money for required continuing legal education, rather than on something used so rarely in the state, she said.

“Things that can be used much more often have a much more practical use,” Sites said. “We used to provide death penalty training every year, but we have cut back to every other year. It just doesn’t make sense, not just for lawyers to take it every year, but for us to provide it every year.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 17, 2012 10:04 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts