Public Defense System

Ada County Courthouse Law Court Public Defender
Lacey Daley / Boise State Public Radio

A lawsuit alleging Idaho severely underfunds its public defense system can now continue as a class action. That means tens of thousands of people could be eligible, with significant changes to Idaho's justice system possible if they win.

Joe Gratz / Flickr Creative Commons

An Idaho District Court judge has ruled that the state now faces a class action lawsuit from those claiming the public defense system is severely underfunded.

State of Idaho Public Defense Commission.

Idaho's Supreme Court will soon decide whether to revive an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the state over its faulty public defense system.

Attorneys on both sides told the high court Wednesday that they agree Idaho's public defense system has serious deficiencies. But the state's attorneys say the blame should lie on the counties, not Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and the state's Public Defense Commission.

What Life Is Like For An Idaho Public Defender

Jun 18, 2015
Michael Galkovsky / Flickr

The ACLU of Idaho is suing the state over its public defense system. Public defenders represent people accused of crimes who can’t afford a lawyer, a principle enshrined in the constitution.

Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

  The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state of Idaho over its patchwork public defense system.

The civil rights group contends that state officials have known for at least five years that high case loads, low budgets and a system that changes from county to county means that low-income defendants aren't being fairly represented in court.

The ACLU has brought similar lawsuits in several other states, reaching settlements in Washington, New York and elsewhere.

Idaho Legislature

Lawmakers on a committee charged with improving Idaho's broken public defense system have killed a resolution that would have given the state full responsibly for assigning attorneys to indigent defenders.

Earlier this year, representatives from the state's 44 counties voted that Idaho should manage the public defense system. However, members of the Legislature's Public Defense Reform Interim Committee at a meeting Monday agreed that counties should remain in control.

A committee of Idaho lawmakers has begun the complicated task of trying to bring the state's public defense system in line with constitutional requirements.

Members of the Public Defense Interim Committee met in Boise on Thursday to hear from state and national experts who warned that Idaho's system is so inadequate that it's likely unconstitutional, and as a result, it's only a matter of time until a lawsuit forces the state to make major changes.