Gideon Alert: Mississippi takes first step toward unified statewide system

BY David Carroll on Friday, June 10, 2011 at 2:55 PM

The Mississippi Office of State Public Defender was created earlier this session with the passage of SB 2563 consolidating the existing Office of Indigent Appeals and the Office of Capital Defense Counsel. The new office is tasked with providing “training and services to public defenders practicing in all state, county and municipal courts” and making recommendations for a future unified, statewide trial-level system. On June 9, 2011, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour announced the appointment of Ms. Leslie Lee as the first State Public Defender.

Though widely seen as a cost-containment effort, SB 2563 offers some hope that Mississippi’s Balkanized, county-based system will one day be unified under the new state office. (For more information on Mississippi's struggles to fulfill Gideon's promise, click here for an article by Phyllis Mann). The State Defender is statutorily required to “coordinate the collection and dissemination of statistical data and make such reports as are required of the divisions, develop plans and proposals for further development of a statewide public defender system in coordination with the Mississippi Public Defenders Task Force and to act as spokesperson for all matters relating to indigent defense representation.”

The Public Defenders Task Force is a statutorily created body whose mission is to: a) examine and study approaches taken by other states in the implementation and costs of state-supported indigent criminal and delinquency cases; b) study the relationship between presiding circuit court and youth court judges and the appointment of criminal and delinquency indigent defense counsel; and, c) make annual reports to the Legislature regarding the need for state-supported counsel in circuit court districts. The Task Force is made up of appointments by the Supreme Court, circuit court judges association, Mississippi Public Defender Association, Mississippi Prosecutors Association; Administrative Office of Courts, Mississippi Association of Supervisors; the Magnolia Bar Association (African-American Bar); and designees of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee, the House Judiciary En Banc Committee, and the House Appropriations Committee. The Task Force is in place through 2014.

The State Public Defender is appointed by the Governor, with approval of the Senate, to a term of four years and can only be terminated for just cause. The State Public Defender’s salary, by statute, may not exceed ninety percent (90%) of the salary of the Attorney General and be no less than the salary of a district attorney.

Find us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter: @GideonAlerts