The ACLU of Idaho believes that all criminal defendants have the constitutional right to effective representation of counsel. Both the federal and Idaho state constitution make the promise to adequate legal representation, which applies to all, regardless of income or social status. Regrettably, across the state, many Idahoans hauled into court face a deficient criminal justice system. If an individual is unable to afford their own attorney, they are left with a state funded public defender. Public defender offices are under-resourced, overburdened and the public defenders are overworked. The state of Idaho must invest adequate resources to establish an effective system of public defense to uphold the constitutional rights for all. The ACLU of Idaho works persistently in the legislature and in the courts to advocate for a constitutional system of public defense. 

Idaho’s Public Defense Reform Story

2008: ACLU of Idaho begins to track public defense issues in response to an increase in intake complaints.
2010: National Legal Aid and Defender Association releases a report finding unconstitutional public defense systems in all of the Idaho counties studied. Idaho’s governor-appointed Criminal Justice Commission creates a subcommittee on public defense. 
2012: Idaho Criminal Justice Commission’s Public Defense Subcommittee recommends creating an interim committee of the Idaho Legislature to focus on public defense reform. 
2014: Legislature bans flat-fee public defense contracts.
Spring 2015: Legislature creates a statewide Public Defense Commission with very limited powers.
Summer 2015: ACLU, ACLU of Idaho, and Hogan Lovells US LLP file a class action lawsuit in state court against the Governor and Public Defense Commission members over the statewide public defense system.
January 2016: State trial court dismisses our lawsuit on standing, ripeness, and separation of powers grounds. We immediately appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court.
March 2016: Governor signs public defense reform bills, which:
Allocate $5 million in new funding for public defense, to be distributed in grants by the Public Defense Commission—the first time in Idaho’s history that state funding is appropriated for trial-level public defense.
Require the statewide Public Defense Commission to promulgate public defense standards.
Gives the Public Defense Commission enforcement authority to hold counties accountable to new public defense standards.
January 2017: Public Defense Commission promulgates new rules that fail to include workload or caseload standards and use permissive rather than mandatory language. 
April 2017: Idaho Supreme Court rules that ACLU/Hogan Lovells lawsuit should go forward, holding that “the counties have no practical ability to effect statewide change” and so “the State must implement the remedy.”
December 2017: Both sides in the lawsuit argue before the state District Court over whether the case should be certified as a class action.