Louisiana lacks funding in juvenile LWOP sentencing hearings

‘The state public defender’s budget has been “stagnant” at about $33 million’

By John Lam

Louisiana public defenders lack funding to represent life-without-parole (LWOP) juvenile offenders at sentencing hearings, the New Orleans Advocate reported.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against laws mandating LWOP for juveniles as unconstitutional in Miller v. Alabama. Subsequent rulings made it retroactive.

Today, juveniles facing a sentence of LWOP are required to get “individualized sentencing hearings” before such a harsh sentence can be handed down,” said Carol Kolinchak, a compliance officer for the Louisiana Public Defender Board.

According to the Advocate, during these hearings the public defender is mandated to investigate and present to the court evidence about the youth and the circumstances surrounding his or her crime.

But the mandate isn’t cheap, and it’s also unfunded, and comes at a cost of $60,000 to $75,000 per client, said Kolinchak.

The shortfall in funding is having a systemic impact on cases handled by public defenders, the state public defender’s budget has been “stagnant” at about $33 million for the past several years, (and) the threat of a 5 percent cut looms ahead, said Jay Dixon, a state public defender.

Budget constraints are preventing public defenders from representing indigent juveniles in individualized sentencing hearings, Dixon told SLP. “We don’t have an answer. This is the kind of thing that funding or lack of funding creates.”

According to Kolinchak, there are nearly 300 juveniles eligible for such individualized hearings throughout the state of Louisiana.

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