Less spent on indigent defense this year in Mohave County

November 15, 2018

Despite a higher caseload in 2018, the Mohave County Office of Indigent Defense Services spent about 20 percent less money on felony cases this year, according to a county report this week.

The Office of Indigent Defense does not provide legal defense in itself, but provides legal representation to Mohave County residents through contracted attorneys – even if that means hiring from beyond the county’s borders to ensure a defendant’s right to legal defense.

Their efforts can be costly, however, and in 2017 the Office of Indigent Defense spent $1,280,534 to defend suspects in felony cases. This year, the office spent $1,061,679, despite a 4-percent increase in felony cases throughout the county.

The report, penned by Indigent Defense Services Director Blake Schritter, calculated total expenditures of the Office of Indigent Defense Services, the Mohave County Legal Advocate’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office in assisting with felony cases, divided by the total number of felonies reported in Mohave County this year. Altogether, the three agencies in 2018 participated in 3,122 felony cases – 400 more than in 2017 – yet spent an average of $165 less per case than last year.

According to the report, the difference may be due to a number of factors including the severity of each respective case, the number of co-defendants in cases, experts or professional services required, the length of jury trials staffing vacancies and the fluctuation of capital case expenses.

According to Schritter, Mohave County’s indigent defense system has faced unique challenges including staff vacancies and case overflow, as well as increases in murder cases in recent years, but the county’s defense offices have allowed county officials to maintain efficacy in using their limited resources.

“It is difficult to identify trends within the criminal justice system as multiple factors influence crime,” Schritter wrote. “Indigent Services, along with Mohave County’s other defense offices, shall continue to provide mandated services while making every attempt to contain possible costs.”

Schritter’s report will be submitted to the Mohave County Board of Supervisors for approval at the Board’s Nov. 19 meeting.

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