Nevada’s highest court orders public defense improvements


The Nevada Supreme Court acted Friday on recommendations from a commission created to improve indigent defense in the state. Friday’s order removes judges from the process of appointing defense lawyers to represent indigent clients, reexamines the way defendants become eligible for indigent defense and mandates the collection of statistics on race and income level of defendants. The order does not act on the commission’s recommendation, however, to cap the number of cases any public defender can handle. Public defenders in Las Vegas currently handle more than 360 cases at any given time, while the professional standard is 150. The court will consider caseload caps at a later hearing, the justices said.

Gary Peck of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada praised the court order, terming it a significant step in “the long-standing fight to fix a badly broken indigent defense system.”

Peck also predicted that once the caseload studies are done he’s confident that limits will be imposed by the high court.

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. (Las Vegas Sun, 01/04/08)

Overburdened or unqualified legal representation was a cause of many of the wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing.

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