Bolstering Utah’s Public Defenders

Governor Gary Herbert recently released his budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 (it runs from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020). There has been a lot of discussion about a variety of large proposals regarding education funding, sales tax reform, and potential tax cuts, but some of the smaller appropriations might fall through the cracks.

One of great significance is a $5 million appropriation for indigent defense funding. Under the U.S. and Utah Constitutions, any accused person who cannot afford (indigent) a lawyer (defense) must be provided with one by the government. Unfortunately, in recent years, the indigent defense program in Utah has fallen painfully short.

Reflective of a nationwide problem, public defenders provided to indigent Utahns often have very little time to work on each individual case because of heavy workloads. Besides over-criminalization and a massive increase in the number of people who enter the criminal justice system, funding for public defenders has been a major problem.

Utah’s Indigent Defense Commission currently runs on a $1.3 million budget and local municipalities pay about $36 million per year for indigent defense. By increasing the Commission’s budget to $6.3 million, opportunities to target troublesome areas in the state where funding is sorely needed for more public defenders will greatly expand.

Indigent defense funding is one place where Utah should be prioritizing taxpayer dollars. The rights of every Utahn should be properly defended.

You can read more about this here.