After the historic passage of HB 504 during the 2016 Legislative Session, the Public Defense Commission (PDC) was tasked with creating rules and standards for Idaho’s public defenders. Those rules and standards were intended to give Idaho counties specific and enforceable guidelines on things such as caseload maximums, regular reviews and supervision, as well as other indigent defense principles.
The newly created PDC rules, while the first of their kind, lack specific caseload standards which would provide much needed relief to the overburdened public defense system in Idaho. In the absence of a comprehensive workload study (which is to be done this year), the PDC initially adopted the standards of the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals (NAC). However, just as the PDC was about to propose the rules to the legislature, the PDC voted to strip the NAC guidelines of their caseload standards, effectively removing the standards of any real substance. Without such guidelines, public defense attorneys will continue to be over-burdened by intolerably high caseloads and will continue to lack relief.
The language included in the drafted rules also lacks teeth. Rather than offering compulsory expectations, the PDC’s rules and standards are permissive and suggestive. Without specific and definitive expectations, the state through its counties will continue to provide inadequate resources for Idaho’s defense attorneys, their offices, and firms.
The ACLU of Idaho asks that the legislature reject the PDC Rules Governing Standards for Defending Attorneys and that they be sent back to the PDC for rework to provide a more substantive set of rules and standards so that all Idahoans are afforded their Sixth Amendment right to adequate representation.