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Sunday, December 08, 2013

Ind. Courts - "ISU students develop program to aid courts in appointing public defenders"

That is the heading to this Nov. 26th news release from Indiana State University. Some quotes:

In Indiana, there is no standard system for determining whether people facing criminal charges are eligible for a public defender in the court of law.

Indiana State University students majoring in criminology and political science have spent the past several months working to help solve that problem.

With a grant from the Indiana Criminal Justice Association, the students have created a pilot screening system to help guide Vigo County judges in appointing public defenders. They began the project in May and will have all of their analysis finished by Dec. 31.

"Prior to this study, each court used a different method for evaluating a defendant for a public defender," Jordan Isaacs, a criminology graduate student from Terre Haute, said. "The system we created works to establish a uniform and efficient structure that asks the same questions for every Vigo County defendant."

Through an interview process, the students asked defendants a standardized set of questions about income, family status, employment and whether they receive public assistance. Based on that information, they made a recommendation to the judge about whether that individual should receive a public defender.

"We got it started from the bottom-up because how do you declare indigence on someone?" Isaacs said. "That's one of the first questions that I didn't know... but I've definitely learned a lot along the way."

Students modeled their screening system after one used in King County, Wash. They then tailored the system to the specific needs of Indiana and Vigo County based on statewide public assistance programs. * * *

The students also sent surveys to the other 91 counties in Indiana to ask about their current methods for determining eligibility for public defenders. Combining the data from the surveys and questions that have to be legally asked, the students want to create a standardized screening instrument that can be used state-wide by all county court systems.

Gretchen Etling, chief public defender for Vigo County, initiated the grant and subcontracted the project and evaluation to Indiana State's department of criminology and criminal justice.

"This is something that Indiana Public Defenders Association wants to install in every Indiana county... [a] uniform system where they can measure indigency," Isaacs said.

Although the students made recommendations to the judge about an individual's eligibility based on their interview, it was ultimately the judge's decision whether a public defender was provided.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 8, 2013 12:24 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts