State V. Citizen

898 So.2d 325 (La. 2005)

Facts
This case involved the separate prosecution of two indigent defendants charged with capital murder in Calcasieu Parish. There, the criminal court fund maintained the court system and the district attorney's office but not the local public defender's office. Instead, the public defender's office was funded by court fees and an allocation of state funds, which caused it to operate at a deficit. Two statutes had recently been amended to prevent the use of local parish funds to pay for appointed counsel. The attorneys appointed to represent the indigent defendants asked the court to make a determination, pursuant to Wigley, of the source of funds for the defense.

Constitutional Issue
The issue raised by this case concerned the then-current status of the funding for indigent defense throughout the state. The Court noted that the Louisiana Constitution explicitly states that "the legislature shall provide for a uniform system for securing and compensating qualified counsel for indigents." Thus, the Court emphasized, it is the state, and not the local parish, that bears the burden of funding indigent defense.

The Court continued that part of a defendant's constitutional right to the assistance of counsel includes the requirement that the state provide adequate funds for their defense. Finding that corrective measures were necessary to address the problem, the Court altered one of its rules set forth in Wigley:

"In order to assure timely representation, we now alter one of the rules previously laid down in Wigley. . . . A district judge should appoint counsel to represent an indigent defendant from the time of the indigent defendantĚs first appearance in court, even if the judge cannot then determine that funds sufficient to cover the anticipated expenses and overhead are likely to be available to reimburse counsel. The appointed attorney may then file a motion to determine funding, . . . and if the trial judge determines that adequate funding is not available, the defendant may file, at his option, a motion to halt the prosecution of the case until adequate funding becomes available. The judge may thereafter prohibit the State from going forward with the prosecution until he or she determines that appropriate funding is likely to be available."

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