The number of unrepresented poor criminal defendants in Maine has passed 300, and continues to grow.
This blog has also reported that the number of available defense attorneys taking cases has fallen again, and plummeted from its peak. That is according to figures from the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services (MCILS).
Court officials - through MCILS - regularly distribute a spreadsheet to defense attorneys listing clients across the state who do not have an attorney but a judge has said they are constitutionally entitled to one. This right to an attorney is enshrined in the United States Constitution and a famous case, Gideon v. Wainwright, from the 1960s. The sheet is a way of asking defense attorneys to take cases for which they are eligible but may not be on the roster actively seeking cases.
Analysis of spreadsheets sent on January 31, 2024, and February 2, 2024, showed each time that the number was over 300 consistently (308 and 302). Even Cumberland and York counties, in the most populous counties in Maine, saw a growing number of defendants without an attorney.
Then, after dipping to around 280 for a while, on February 16, 2024, the number hit 314. The county with the largest number of unrepresented individuals was Penobscot with nearly 100, followed by Aroostook at nearly 80. More than 40 were in York County, and more than 30 in Cumberland County.
These numbers are of individuals and not cases. Several defendants have multiple dockets to defend.
This is just several weeks after hitting a previous milestone. Analysis of the spreadsheet sent on January 17, 2023, found that the number hit exactly 250 defendants.
Even more troubling is that of those 250 defendants, 68 were in custody - either because they have been denied bail or are unable to afford the bail that has been set for them by a judge. This number is also worsening, week by week, with occasional dips but increasing in the aggregate. In the latest spreadsheet, released on February 16, around 90 individuals were in custody.
A Rural Defender Unit was set up by MCILS consisting of salaried public defenders to also deal with some of these issues.