According to a new report released by the Tennessee Justice Project, indigent defense attorneys in the state receive far fewer dollars and “in-kind” resources than prosecutors. This discrepancy creates an uneven playing field that undermines the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system. The report, Resources of the Prosecution and Indigent Defense Functions in Tennessee, is based on findings from a study conducted by The Spangenberg Group, one of the nation’s leading experts on state criminal justice systems. The Group determined that “in the course of over three decades conducting nationwide research on financial resources furnished to the prosecution and the defense in indigent cases, the findings in Tennessee are the most telling examples of disparities we have found,” a conclusion that the Tennessee Justice Project says underscores the need for significant criminal justice reform.

The Spangenberg Group’s study examined fiscal year 2004-2005 funding information from a variety of sources, including the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, the District Attorney Generals’ Conference, the Public Defenders’ Conference, the Indigent Defense Fund, and other federal, state, county and local governmental funding sources involved in indigent criminal prosecution and defense. Researchers discovered that indigent defense attorneys receive less than half the money given to prosecutors, and when taking into account “in-kind” services provided to the prosecution from various federal, county and municipal law enforcement agencies and experts, prosecutors receive more than four times as many resources than are provided to indigent defense counsel.

“When even the most capable and hard-working attorneys lack adequate resources to do their job, there is an increased risk that innocent people will be incarcerated, guilty people may never be prosecuted, and other defendants will receive unfairly excessive sentences,” said Bill Redick, Director of the Tennessee Justice Project. Bradley MacLean, a Nashville defense attorney and Assistant Director of the Tennessee Justice Project, added, “We are not suggesting a decrease in resources for the prosecution function. We are simply advocating for reasonable parity for indigent cases between the defense and the prosecution so that the defense counsel is included as an equal partner in the justice system.”

(The Tennessee Justice Project Press Release, June 27, 2007). Read the Study. Read the Press Release. See Resources, Representation, and Innocence.