Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act

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Issue: Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act

Impact:

The proposed legislation would establish a private, nonprofit corporation, the National Center for the Right to Counsel, to supplement state and local resources for legal assistance to indigent defendants in criminal cases.

Position:

State court leaders urge Congress to enact legislation, such as H.R. 3407, to assist state and local governments to comply with the constitutional right to counsel for indigent criminal defendants (CCJ/COSCA Resolution 14-A-2)

Summary:

On 10/30/13, Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduced the National Center for the Right to Counsel Act (H.R. 3407).  The measure would establish a District of Columbia private, nonprofit corporation to be known as the National Center for the Right to Counsel (Center) to provide:  (1) financial support to supplement, but not supplant, funding for public defense systems that provide legal assistance to indigent defendants in criminal cases, including systems run by state or local governments as well as private entities or individuals providing services under contract with state or local governments; and (2) financial and substantive support for training programs to improve delivery of legal services to indigent defendants.  The Center would be funded by a 10% set-aside of the Byrne-JAG funds, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Justice.  The Center would further be able to secure additional funding through private donations and grants. 

The measure would require each state, territory, and the District of Columbia to have a 9-member state advisory council to: (1) monitor, receive, and investigate complaints regarding the compliance of public defense systems that receive funding with applicable laws and regulations; (2) notify the Center of any apparent violations; and (3) collect data on the delivery of public defense services and facilitate information sharing between the state's public defense systems.  The chief judicial officer of the highest court of the state would appoint 3 of the council members. 

The Center would be authorized to: (1) make grants and contracts; (2) undertake research, training, and technical assistance; and (3) serve as a clearinghouse for information.  The measure specifically would prohibit the Center from interfering with attorneys' professional responsibilities to their clients or from abrogating the authority of states or other jurisdictions to enforce such standards.  It would also require the Center, to the extent feasible, to provide public defense services in an indigent defendant's principal language in areas where significant numbers of indigent defendants speak a language other than English.  The Center would be required to make available to the public an online database that includes the contact information for all public defense systems in every state.  Further, the measure would require the Center to establish regional backup service centers to assist public defense systems with access to investigators, sentencing mitigation specialists, and information about available grants.  

Status:

Organizations that support the bill include the American Bar Association, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the National Association for Public Defense, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Constitution Project. 

Representative Deutch reintroduced the National Center for the Right to Counsel Act (H.R. 2063) on 4/28/15.

On 5/13/15, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing, Protecting the Constitutional Right to Counsel for Indigents Charged with Misdemeanors.  Chief Justice Mark Cady testified on behalf of CCJ and recommended legislation such as the National Center for the Right to Counsel Act as a means to address concerns for indigents charged with misdemeanors.