Failing Gideon: Utah’s Flawed County-By-County Public Defender System

August 24, 2011

ACLU of Utah Issues Report Detailing Chronic Underfunding, Other Systemic Failures in Public Defender Services 


On August 24, 2011, the ACLU of Utah issued a 95-page report, “Failing Gideon: Utah’s Flawed County-By-County Public Defender System,” documenting the state’s and counties’ chronic failures to fund or oversee trial-level public defender services in Utah. In addition to analyzing public and other records obtained from each of Utah’s 29 counties, the ACLU of Utah and students from the University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law Civil Rights Clinic, conducted interviews and observed court proceedings across the state. As the report details:

  • Public defense budgets are often only 25-35% of the amounts budgeted for County Attorney’s Offices (i.e., the prosecution).
  • In some counties, public defender caseloads are so high that they may have only 10 hours (or less) to spend on each felony case.
  • In some counties, contract terms may result in public defenders receiving only $400 (or less) per felony.
  • Public defender contracts usually are awarded to the lowest bidder, regardless of experience.
  • Public defender contracts often are awarded based on the direct recommendation of the County Attorney, creating a clear conflict of interest.