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Published on Friday, January 24, 2014

Modifying the definition of indigent defense and ability to pay

A proposed substitute version of a bill introduced last year PSSB 5020, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon (D-Potlatch), related to modifying criteria in the definition of “indigent and able to contribute” for the purposes of qualifying for court appointed legal representation was heard on January 24, in the Senate Law & Justice Committee. The term indigent is currently defined as a person at any stage of a court proceeding who is receiving certain types of public assistance, involuntarily committed to public mental health, annual income of less than 125% of the poverty level, or unable to pay any amount towards the costs for counsel based on his or her available funds.

The bill changes the definition of “indigent and able to contribute” to include additional categories previously qualifying as indigent, such as those on public assistance, if that person is found to have available funds he or she is “able to contribute,” and requires that person to contribute some amount toward the anticipated cost of his or her defense. The bill also clarifies that the procedures for documenting findings of indigence also apply to findings of indigent and able to contribute.