Tennessee Public Defenders were appointed to a record 183,136 criminal cases during Fiscal Year 2005. This is a 6.5 percent increase over last year. These cases involved a record 313,400 charges, a 5.6 percent increase over last year’s record level.
The backlog of charges remains at a critical level. “Of the 313,400 new charges handled by public defenders last year, our attorneys were able to close out cases involving 292,882 charges,” says Jeff Henry, Executive Director of the Public Defenders Conference. “That means we started this fiscal year with a backlog of 20,518 charges left over from previous years.”
Director Henry points out that the Tennessee General Assembly authorized 23 new public defender attorneys in 2004. “We are grateful for the added resources,” Henry says. “However, we are still far short of the number of positions recommended by the State Comptroller’s updated Weighted Caseload Study of 2005.” That study, commissioned by the General Assembly, recommends that the Public Defenders Conference employ an additional 120 attorneys to adequately handle the state’s indigent defense caseload.
Each public defender attorney was appointed to an average of 911 cases last fiscal year. Public defender caseloads in Tennessee significantly exceed national recommendations. The universally accepted national standards have remained the same since they were adopted by the National Advisory Commission in 1974. Those standards are no more than: 150 felonies or 400 misdemeanors or 200 juvenile court cases or 25 appeals per attorney.