Background: Idaho's State Public Defender Act

The ACLU, the ACLU of Idaho, and the global law firm Hogan Lovells filed a lawsuit in 2015 against the State of Idaho over its defective public defense system. That litigation is ongoing today. 


1. What is the State Public Defender Act?

A.What is the State Public Defender Act?


In 2022, the Idaho Legislature passed a bill that creates a new funding source for public defense beginning in 2025—shifting the cost of public defense services from the counties to the state. During the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers were tasked with passing a bill that specifies what that statewide system will look like. Much to the ACLU of Idaho’s disappointment, the legislation introduced this session fell far short of establishing a system that can meet constitutional muster or that will avoid a trial in Tucker.

2. HB 236: The State Public Defender Act

A.HB 236: The State Public Defender Act


Unfortunately, the bill sponsors and the governor’s office failed to work with key stakeholders, including the ACLU of Idaho, to address significant concerns with the bill. Those concerns include, but are not limited to: inadequate funding, lack of political independence, and permissive standards.

3. Idaho's Public Defender Act is Inadequately Funded

A.Idaho's Public Defender Act is Inadequately Funded


The funding mechanism for the new model of public defense is laid out in different legislation; however, the bill’s Statement of Purpose provides that $48 million is to be made available annually to fund public defense across the state beginning in FY25. Given recognized national standards for the provision of constitutionally effective public defense and existing caseloads, this level of public defense funding is woefully inadequate. The Idaho legislature must significantly increase funding to ensure constitutionally adequate representation or decriminalize minor offenses to in order decrease caseloads and alleviate costs associated with the carceral state.

4. Idaho's Public Defender Act Lacks Political Independence

A.Idaho's Public Defender Act Lacks Political Independence


Ensuring that public defense is independent from judicial and political influence is paramount in achieving a constitutional system. The American Bar Association created the “Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System” as a practical guide for governmental officials, policymakers, and other parties who are charged with creating and funding new --or improving existing-- public defense delivery systems.1 The Ten Principles constitute the fundamental criteria necessary to design a system that provides “effective, efficient, high quality, ethical, and conflict-free legal representation for criminal defendants who are unable to afford an attorney."2 Political and judicial independence is the very first among the American Bar Association’s Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System because without it, “most of the other ABA Principles are unobtainable.”3


1. See “Ten principles of a public defense delivery system.” American Bar Association, 2002,

2. Id.

“The Preeminent need for Independence of the Defense Function- ABA Principle 1.” Sixth Amendment Center, 2023, counsel/the-preeminent-need-for-independence-of-the-defense-function-aba-principle-1/.