Maryland Reduced Funding for Criminal Defense Services for the Poor

under Personal Injury

Written by a Maryland Criminal Lawyer Staff Writer

Spending by the state of Maryland for criminal defense service fell 7.9 percent from fiscal year 2008 to 2012, according to a Justice Department study that made the news this summer. Though this may not seem like much, it’s clearly a problem when you consider the national average saw a reduction in spending of only 4.3 percent.

Maryland’s Public Defender Service has gone on the record noting that it definitely felt the impact of these budget cuts, including the loss of key support staff and attorneys having to handle larger than normal caseloads when compared with national standards. In the state of Maryland, defense services for the poor are completely funded by the government of the state. During 2012, the state of Maryland spent just under $88 million on the defense of indigent individuals, according to a July 2014 study on Government Indigent Defense Expenditures Report.”

Certainly Maryland is not alone in this dismal trend. In New York, spending on defense services for the indigent was reduced by a staggering 40 percent during the same period.

Whether or not there will be any significant relief in Maryland is hard to tell. On the one hand, the Maryland Court of Appeals’ ruling that individuals have a constitutional right to have counsel at the earliest proceedings, which went into effect on July 1, is expected to push state officials to provide for this constitutional right. See DeWolfe v. Richmond (pdf copy here).

However, $10 million that was earmarked by the General Assembly for this effort and taken from state’s annual Judiciary Budget will not go to the Office of the Public Defender, despite estimates from the office that it requires $28 million per year to handle its demands.

As noted by the state Public Defender, Paul DeWolfe, lacking sufficient funds for the public defender’s office means any benefits gained by the legal requirement to provide defense counsel at the start of the case will be completely undercut by the ridiculous caseload that public defenders must carry. Back in 2005, the National Center for State Courts worked with the public defender’s office to determine appropriate caseloads. With more than 200,000 cases going through the office each year, it has far exceeded the standards set in that 2005 study, according to DeWolfe.

It only makes sense that the ability of an attorney, any attorney, to advocate for her or his clients will falter as their caseload continues to climb. As a full service Maryland criminal defense firm, we understand the critical importance that providing for defense services plays for any person who has been accused of a crime. For those who are indigent, the prospect of defending oneself is even more terrifying as many of these people are feeling trampled and forgotten by not only the justice system but by society as a whole. We stand with our colleagues at the Public Defender’s Office as they fight for the people they serve, and we hope that the state will take seriously the Appellate Court’s ruling and provide adequate funding.