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Panel begins work on indigent defense bills

By Rick Pluta, Michigan Public Radio Network

LANSING, MI – The chair of a special legislative subcommittee says he wants to reform Michigan's system for appointing public defenders before the end of the summer.

State Representative Bob Constan wants to create an independent agency to defend people who are accused of crimes, but cannot afford an attorney. Right now, each county runs its own system, and, in many cases, the fees they pay are some of the lowest in the country.

Constan says that means in many counties, caseloads are too high, and that leads to errors in trials and wrongful convictions: "Eventually, there could be a finding by a court that we're in violation of the constitution."

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the state. The Michigan Court of Appeals just ordered the case to trial.

Constan says he'd like to get reforms through the House before the end of the summer, and start negotiating on a plan with the Senate.

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