Quick Guide

  • Cost Per Capita: $5.06
  • State Funding Level: 71% County Funding
    29% State Funding
  • State Independence: No Commission
  • Primary Delivery Model: County-Based System

Mississippi has 82 counties and a statewide population estimated in 2009 at roughly 2.95 million. The felony trial courts are structured through 22 Circuit Court districts with each comprising multiple counties.

Under the Mississippi Code of 1972, indigent defense representation after Gideon was provided through an appointed counsel system.  Beginning in 1979, if two or more counties within a given circuit so chose, they could together establish a public defender office instead of using a court appointed counsel system, and the public defender office could be either a full-time office or a part-time office.  There have never been a significant number of full-time public defender offices in Mississippi. Most counties have consistently used either the appointed counsel system or a part-time public defender system that is really a flat-fee contract.

After a lawsuit filed by appointed counsel attorneys in 1990 – in which the Mississippi Supreme Court required payment of overhead in addition to the appointed fee – many counties switched from assigned counsel systems to contract defender systems. In 1992, the Mississippi Bar established a Criminal Justice Task Force, led by Justice Fred L. Banks, Jr. of the Mississippi Supreme. The Task Force proposed significant reforms to the provision of public defense, and legislation passed in 1998 to create a statewide defender system for felonies and appeals. This legislation, however, never received funding and was repealed in 2002. (For more information on the history of Mississippi Public Defense, see the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) and 2003 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. report on the state of indigent defense representation in Mississippi). In 2000, the legislature did create two statewide offices to address capital cases and in 2005 created a statewide appellate defender.

In 2011, Mississippi move closer to a unified system of defense with the creation of the Office of the State Public Defender – merging the capital and appellate offices — and delegating additional responsibility to the Office. The Office is required by statute to collect data, produce reports, and “develop plans and proposals for further development of a statewide public defender system in coordination with the Mississippi Public Defenders Task Force.”