Muni-mail – Spouse Must WANT to Fund Defense in PD Case – State v. Mierzwa

[06/06/11 – 9:07 am] The Appellate Division has clarified an important component of municipal court procedure dealing with the qualification for municipal court public defender services. In State v. Mierzwa, the defendant was tried on two occasions in the municipal court and subjected each time, following conviction, to consequences of magnitude. Although he had requested the services of the public defender, his request had been denied due to the fact that his spouse’s income (which was imputed to him) brought him outside the current indigency guidelines. The Appellate Division reversed the defendant’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The Court ruled that the municipal court public defender statute (NJSA 2B:24-9) must be construed with the Superior Court public defender law. That statute provides that rather than simply imputing a spouses income to the defendant (as the municipal court judge did) the court may consider, where appropriate, the willingness and ability of the defendant’s immediate family, friends or employer to assist the defendant in meeting defense costs. (See NJSA 2A:158A-14.) Since there was no evidence before the court suggesting a willingness of the spouse to help fund the defense, the defendant had been improperly denied public defender services.

Download a copy of State v. Mierzwa.

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