Uintah County awarded state grant funds for local indigent defense services

The Utah Indigent Defense Commission (IDC) is pleased to add Uintah County to a growing list of local governments using state grant monies to improve local indigent defense services.

The IDC is now working with Uintah, Juab, and Salt Lake Counties to help improve local indigent defense services.

As Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein recently stated:

Protecting the right to counsel is a fundamental component of preserving the rule of law and ensuring equal access to justice … Being a criminal defender can be a thankless job … struggling to mount the best defense possible in the face of great adversity. But, as our nation’s founders knew, this role is essential to safeguarding justice.[1]

Uintah County recognizes the importance of the 6th Amendment Right to Counsel. In 2015, after the Utah Judicial Council’s Report on the Representation of Indigent Criminal Defendants in Trial Courts, the County took the initiative to improve the quality and administration of its indigent defense services.[2] Among those improvements, was ensuring separate and sufficient numbers of attorneys to provide primary and conflict representation in appointed cases in Uintah County Courts, and on appeal to the state’s appellate courts.

With IDC grant money Uintah County continues to improve local indigent defense services by:

Increasing the attorneys representing indigent parties in cases where a conflict of interest prevents an attorney from ethical representation. Utah attorneys are bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibit representing a client when it would be adverse to another client, or representation would be limited by the attorney’s duty of loyalty to another client.[3] 

Ensuring sufficient funding is available for attorneys to use to hire investigators, experts, and fund other necessary expenses of providing effective assistance of counsel to indigent defendants.  

Ensuring appropriate compensation for appellate representation and transcripts of trial court proceedings on appeal. The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1963, both that an indigent defendant is entitled at government expense, to the effective assistance of counsel at trial[4], on direct appeal,[5] and that the government must also provide free transcripts to ensure an effective review of the trial on appeal.[6]

Continued improvements to local indigent defense services are necessary in Uintah County to bring services into better compliance with constitutional and IDC core principles.[7] The IDC will work with the County to help it improve its organizational capacity for indigent defense, determine and balance public defender workloads, incentivize zealous representation, and ensure its attorneys provide the full scope of constitutionally-mandated representation. Additionally as the most populous county—in both size and number of attorneys—in the Eighth Judicial District, the IDC is also hopeful these improvements will help the delivery of constitutional indigent defense services throughout that District.

The continued use of state funds to improve local indigent defense services, indicates the tremendous potential state funding has to help ensure local governments are actually providing constitutional, fair, and cost-efficient indigent defense services in every appointed case across the state.