Topic:
ATTORNEYS; CAPITAL PUNISHMENT; PUBLIC DEFENDERS;
Location:
ATTORNEYS; CAPITAL PUNISHMENT;

OLR Research Report


February 14, 2005

 

2005-R-0158

PUBLIC DEFENDER SERVICES IN CAPITAL FELONY CASES

By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney

Elizabeth Pytka, Legislative Fellow

Steve Dilella, Legislative Fellow

You asked several questions about the Capital Defense Unit within the Office of the Chief Public Defender (OCPD) and if there are equivalent units in other states. Specifically, you wanted to know when and why the unit was established, the types of cases it handles, and its budget.

SUMMARY

The Capital Defense and Trial Services Unit was established within the OCPD in 1985 to handle capital felony and complex litigation cases. Primarily local or district public defender offices handled the three capital felony cases tried before that date. These were the first cases prosecuted after the state reinstituted the death penalty in 1973. It was after these cases were tried that the chief public defender concluded that defending capital cases was too burdensome for local offices.

The Capital Defense and Trial Services Unit does not have its own budget, but the OCPD estimates that it will spend almost $2 million or 5.6% of its budget representing defendants in capital cases.

We identified 17 states with a statewide equivalent to our OCPD. Of these, nine have a separate unit or division that handles capital cases. Two, New York and Virginia, have separate offices that handle capital cases.

CAPITAL DEFENSE AND TRIAL SERVICES UNIT

Creation

The Capital Defense and Trial Services Unit is one of OCPD's five units, which together provide legal representation to any person charged with a crime who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. The Capital Defense and Trial Services Unit is one of the five. Former Chief Public Defender Joseph Shortall created the unit in 1985 to handle capital felony and complex litigation cases to ease the burden they placed on local public defender offices, according to Gerard Smyth, current chief public defender and the unit's first head. An investigator, a mitigation specialist, and an attorney from the district where the offense occurred also assisted in the litigation.

Today

Today the unit handles only capital felony cases, Smyth reports. The unit has six attorneys, three investigators, two mitigation specialists, a paralegal, and a secretary. The unit is expected to spend $1.96 million during 2004-05 defending capital cases. Its funding comes from the OCPD's personal services, expert witness, special public defender, and training accounts, according to Smyth.

PUBLIC DEFENDER SERVICES IN OTHER STATES

Seventeen of the states that have death penalty statutes have a state office of public defender services similar to Connecticut's OCPD. These states are: Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Wyoming. Of these, nine have a unit dedicated to handling capital cases only. Two of the 17 states, New York and Virginia, have separate offices to handle these cases. Table 1 shows how each of these states handles capital cases and, where applicable, the unit's capital defense budget.

TABLE 1: STATE CAPITAL DEFENSE UNITS AND BUDGETS

States

Capital Defense Unit or Office?

Budget

Arizona

No, the state office designates one attorney to serve as the lead assisted by another attorney, investigators, and mitigation specialists from the local office where the case is being tried.

 

Colorado

No, death penalty cases are assigned to the most experienced public defenders.

 

Delaware

No, the director of the public defender's office assigns two experienced attorneys to handle each case assisted by a designated team of mitigation specialists.

 

Florida

Yes, the Capital Litigation Unit was established in 1995.

No separate budget.

Illinois

Yes, the Trial Assistance Division was established in 2002.

$2,600,000

Indiana

Yes, the Capital Litigation Unit was established in 1989.

No separate budget.

Maryland

Yes, the Capital Defense Division was established in 1984.

Not available

Missouri

Yes, the Capital Litigation Division was established in 1989.

$2,266,933

Nevada

No, the chief public defender assigns a senior deputy attorney to handle the case.

 

New Hampshire

No. The state has not tried a capital case in seven years. If such a case were ever commenced, the office speculates that it would assign three lawyers full time to the case. In addition, it would hire a mitigation specialist and a full time investigator.

 

New Jersey

No, capital cases are handled by special assignment to experienced attorneys assisted by jury selection experts, investigators, and mitigation experts.

 

New Mexico

Yes, the Capital Crimes Unit was established in the mid 1990s.

No separate budget, funding comes from the overall public defender's budget of approximately $30,000,000.

New York

Yes, the Capital Defender Office was established in 1995.

$13 million

Ohio

Yes, the Death Penalty Division was established in 1982.

$75,000

Oklahoma

Yes, the Capital Trials Division was established in 1991 to handle capital cases arising in all but Oklahoma (serving Oklahoma City) and Tulsa counties (serving Tulsa).

No separate budget, funding comes from budget for the Indigent Defense System, which is $9,952,340.

Virginia

Yes, the Capital Defender Office was established in 2003.

No separate budget.

Wyoming

Yes, the Capital Case Unit was established in 2001.

No separate budget.

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