Statement from the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office on Proposed Legislation to Eliminate Funding Parity with District Attorney General

JFNG LogoMemphis, TN, 2/13/2015 –  This week Tennessee lawmakers introduced legislation that would repeal T.C.A. 16-2-518, the so-called “75% Rule” for local public defender funding. The rule was established in 1992 and requires local government to provide the public defender 75% of the local funding it provides to the district attorney general.

The Shelby County Public Defender’s Office opposes passage of House Bill 241 and Senate Bill 1324, which would dismantle fiscally sound legislation that has served our community well for more than 20 years.

The 75% Rule helps ensure parity and fairness in a necessarily adversarial system. Repeal of this longstanding and sensible check on funding would alter the balance that must exist when life and liberty are at stake, as they are daily in the criminal justice system.

Local government helps fund public defense in Tennessee’s urban centers, while the State is the primary funding source for public defenders elsewhere. The 75% Rule has worked for more than two decades to keep costs down for both State and local government. Repeal of this rule is a solution looking for a problem. It is unclear how this community and the State of Tennessee would benefit from the removal of this smart and fiscally responsible mandate.

What is clear is that destabilizing the funding structure of our local criminal justice system has the potential to drive up costs for the State, will remove a mandated balancing mechanism and could trigger a dangerous imbalance in our courtrooms.  A weakened public defender system exposes the community to more wrongful convictions, unfair sentences and, ultimately, a more expensive County Jail.

T.C.A. 16-2-518 is the type of legislation that Tennesseans should be proud of. We urge our state lawmakers to uphold this commitment to fairness, justice and good stewardship.

Click here to download a PDF of the statement.