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A Comprehensive Prescription for Indigent Defense Reform

19 October 2015 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

"Utah needs aggressive reform at both the state and county levels, undertaken immediately and supported by significant state funding. Any legislative proposal must include concrete directives for counties, as well as funding to accomplish those directives."IDP YesOn6

That statement appeared in a recent Op-Ed, "Utah Must Walk the Talk By Fully Funding Indigent Defense," by Legislative & Policy Counsel Marina Lowe and Legal Director John Mejia, published in the Salt Lake Tribune.

In that piece, the ACLU of Utah staff argued that simply establishing a statewide indigent defense commission would not be enough to reform Utah's constitutionally inadequate  system of providing legal counsel for people who can't afford a private attorney.

So if a statewide commission is not enough, what WOULD be enough?

Nobody, anywhere, in the United States has come up with the perfect way to make good on the Constitution's Sixth Amendment guarantee: that all people who stand accused by the government and are at risk for losing their liberty, have a strong legal proponent, no matter how rich or poor they are.

But with major reforms undertaken in recent years in Michigan, Montana, New York, Washington D.C. - and with some states doing a fairly decent job without massive overhauls - we have some ideas of what would work better...and sooner.

In partnership with national colleagues and reform partners throughout the country, we have put together a very detailed proposal of what is needed to ensure that Utah's public defense system comply with best practices and high standards. Any member of the public can download that proposal at the end of this blog post, and

The past decade of indigent defense reform around the country has taught us enough to know that it is possible to begin to take strong action immediately, at both the county and state levels, to end the injustices that are piling up as a result of inadequate public defense resources throughout Utah.

People deserve justice, and under the Constitution, they are guaranteed an attorney - no matter how rich or poor they are - to help them pursue justice. We can't wait any longer to begin to deliver on that guarantee! 

Please send any comments or suggestions on how to improve this proposal to Anna Brower, Strategic Communications Manager, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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