2015 Session Preview: Shifting misdemeanors to infractions
In the 2014 session, public defense reform united the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, and in the wake of this year’s Public Defense Reform Interim Committee, you should expect to hear more about it in the upcoming session.
The suggestions for changing Idaho’s public defense system — which the IFF and ACLU say violates the Sixth Amendment for its supposed inadequate representation for indigent defendants — are wide-ranging and aren’t all centered on adding more money into the system or hiring more public defenders. One idea from stakeholders focuses on reducing caseloads for public defenders by changing some misdemeanors to infractions. (Offenders charged with misdemeanors are entitled to a public defender if they can’t afford their own attorney; infractions often require nothing more than paying a fine.)
Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, has put together six pieces of draft legislation that do just that. The sections of code deal with Fish and Game, driver’s licenses, alcohol and tobacco, littering, and curfew violations.
Luker also suggests repealing two sections of code altogether. Those two sections deal with tampering with vehicles and failing to provide assistance to police officers.
The interim committee praised Luker for his efforts, but we’ll have to wait and see how the Legislature as a whole reacts. (Debates concerning alcohol are often touchy, in my experience.) And not all of the stakeholders are on the same page. One public defender Idaho Reports spoke to in October didn’t like the idea of changing some misdemeanors to infractions, saying accused people should have the right to be represented in court if they choose.
Regardless, Luker’s proposed legislation lines up with sentencing reform efforts that have been building momentum across the country, both on a national level and within state legislatures. Earlier this fall, Congressman Raul Labrador co-sponsored a bipartisan effort to give courts more discretion in sentencing for nonviolent drug cases.
For more, make sure to watch Idaho Reports. We’ll have much more on this when our season starts in January. And check out this brief from the Associated Press for more from Monday’s Public Defense Reform Interim Committee meeting.