State V. Peart (1993)

621 So.2d 780 (La. 1993)

Leonard Peart was charged with armed robbery, aggravated rape, aggravated burglary, attempted armed robbery, and first degree murder. He was determined to be indigent and a public defender was appointed to represent him on all but the first degree murder charge. Mr. Peart's appointed counsel had an excessive caseload, no investigator, and no money for expert witnesses. In an effort to present a defense, Mr. Peart's attorney filed a motion for the state to fund the necessary resources.

Constitutional Issue
The Louisiana Supreme Court grappled with the provision of public defender services in Louisiana's underfunded and overburdened system in light of the state Constitution's command to the legislature to "provide for a uniform system for securing and compensating qualified counsel for indigents."

The Court found that Louisiana has had a "general pattern" of "chronic underfunding of indigent defense programs in most areas of the state," and that the unique system of funding indigent defense through criminal and traffic ticket assessments is an unstable and unpredictable approach. The Court further noted that "[t]he underfunding which results from this system has serious consequences."

Comparing the conditions in the Criminal District Court, Section E, with national standards, the Court stated that the conditions "routinely violate the standards" on workload, initial provision of counsel, investigation, and others. The Court remanded the case for a retrial on the motion for resources, ordering the court "to apply a rebuttable presumption that such indigents are not receiving assistance of counsel effective enough to meet constitutionally required standards."

Finally, the Court warned:

"If legislative action is not forthcoming and indigent defense reform does not take place, this Court, in the exercise of its constitutional and inherent power and supervisory jurisdiction, may find it necessary to employ the more intrusive and specific measures it has thus far avoided to ensure that indigent defendants receive reasonably effective assistance of counsel. "

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