It is not unusual for me to receive an order where a trial court has appointed the Indiana Public Defender Commission to represent an indigent defendant on appeal. We have so many public defender agencies in Indiana, it can get confusing 🙂 Yet each agency plays a specific role.
The Indiana State Public Defender’s office, or SPDO, is a State agency under the judicial branch comprised of attorneys who represent indigent criminal defendants in post-conviction relief proceedings. The head of the agency is appointed by the Indiana Supreme Court and serves at the Court’s pleasure. While the SPDO does not directly represent indigent defendants on direct appeal from their criminal convictions and sentences, trial courts that find themselves without appellate attorneys can request that the SPDO appoint counsel. The SPDO maintains a list of contract attorneys to handle those direct appeals.
The Indiana Public Defender Commission is also a State agency under the judicial branch. Its purpose is to create minimum standards and qualifications public defenders should meet in order to provide effective representation. To encourage counties to meet those standards and qualifications, the PD Commission reimburses counties (from State funds) for a portion of their public defense expenses if those counties agree to meet those standards. The PD Commission does not provide direct representation to criminal defendants. The PD Commission is overseen by a board comprised of legislators, judges, and other individuals.
Similar to the other two agencies, the Indiana Public Defender Council is a State agency under the judicial branch. Its purpose is to assist in the training and support of every attorney providing criminal defense throughout the State. The Council does that through offering CLEs, creating training manuals, and providing one-on-one assistance to public defenders. The Council is governed by a board of directors. Like the PD Commission, it does not provide direct representation to criminal defendants.
All three agencies work closely together to improve criminal defense in the state. But they serve very different roles.