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The Nevada Supreme Court has issued an order mandating sweeping changes to the state’s indigent defense system. The order adopts performance standards for public defenders to help ensure defendants in criminal cases are provided appropriate representation. It sets standards for determining whether a defendant is entitled to an appointed attorney, including a more rigorous screening process. The court also declared that judges should not be involved in the appointment of defense attorneys who represent indigent defendants in their courts. Additionally, the court required that statistics on services to indigent defendants be regularly provided by all counties. Finally, the court ordered the creation of a permanent statewide commission to oversee indigent defense. The court order did not establish caseload standards for public defenders but ordered two counties to conduct comprehensive studies on the issue by July 15. The court also scheduled a hearing in September to review the studies and the issue of caseload standards. The order resulted from recommendations made in December by the court’s Indigent Defense Commission, a blue-ribbon panel that studied in 2007 ways of improving services to those who cannot afford to hire their own attorneys. The 72-page order, which was issued Jan. 4, is available online. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has called the order an “enormous step forward for indigent defense” and pointed out it is the first time a state Supreme Court has taken such bold steps to improve indigent defense services. The National Legal Aid & Defender Association also issued a news release welcoming the court’s order and said it is a “major step in creating a fair and equal statewide justice system.”

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