SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice is seeking $1.5 million in one-time funding to support legal defense for Utahns who can't afford it.
Joanna Landau, executive director of the Indigent Defense Commission, said that funding would build on last year's support to fund more defense attorneys, training and oversight to local governments throughout the state.
Support from the Indigent Defense Commission is done through cost sharing with local governments, and grants awarded by the commission are carefully administered, Landau told the Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Monday.
In response to questions from the committee, Landau agreed that while the commission is currently seeking one-time funding, eventually a long-term solution will need to be addressed.
"Eventually we'll be here talking about (long-term funding), but for the immediate future the one-time funding is critical," Landau said.
Urging support for the funding, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, emphasized the state's constitutional obligation to ensure adequate legal representation to all citizens who need it.
In the state of Utah, he said, it was decided that indigent defense would be dealt with on the county level, but the state failed to provide any instruction, support or guidance for those counties.
"The reality is that not every county has done enough to meet the constitutional requirement of providing counsel," Thatcher said. "This is one of the things, in my opinion, that we are constitutionally obligated to do where we have fallen short, and so I think it's very important we pay attention to this issue."