Quick Guide

  • Cost Per Capita: $7.79
  • State Funding Level: 92% County Funding
    8% State Funding
  • State Independence: Independent Commission
  • Primary Delivery Model: County-Based System

On July 1, 2013, Governor Rick Snyder signed into law long-awaited public defense reform legislation.  For years, national and local advocates — led by the Michigan Campaign For Justice — have been pushing for changes to the state’s delivery on public defense, as highlighted in The National Legal Aid & Defender Association’s 2008 report, A Race to the Bottom.  

Until this legislation, county governments had fully funded and administered trial-level right to counsel services. (The state funded only appellate representation).  As reported by the Michigan Advisory Commission on Indigent Defense convened by Executive order, Michigan’s history of failure to coordinate led to an “83 county patchwork quilt of service delivery systems, with each county’s ‘system’ dependent on its own interpretation of what is adequate and on its own funding availability.”

The state only assisted with direct appeals.  The new law establishes a statewide commission.  The 15-member commission will be appointed by the Governor, but will be done so from a list of recommendations from a diverse group of entities and other governmental branches, including: the legislature, judiciary, attorneys, and professional associations.

Under the new law, the state will not immediately provide any direct funding.  However, counties are required to continue funding at the average of the previous three-years, with any increases needed to improve services to be funded by the State.

Michigan’s trial courts system is divided into circuits, some encompassing two or more counties, and every circuit chooses its own method of providing right to counsel services. Many larger circuits contain multiple district courts. District courts often fund and deliver indigent defense services differently than circuit courts. The system can also vary from judge to judge. Michigan uses a mixture of flat-fee contracts and hourly payments to private attorneys. There are very few institutional public defender offices providing trial-level services in the state and there is no state oversight over the trial-level system.

For appeals, the Appellate Defender Commission oversees indigent defense services post-trial. Two separate systems deliver services: the State Appellate Defender Office (SADO) and the Michigan Appellate Assigned Counsel System (MAACS). The Appellate Defender Commission oversees both.

All SADO attorneys and support staff work full-time out of a central office in Detroit, and a smaller office in Lansing. SADO accepts a quarter of circuit court appointments across the state. MAACS private assigned counsel handles the remaining 75 percent of appeals. MAACS uses SADO’s staff.