The IDS Commission and the IDS Office
In August 2000, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Indigent Defense Services Act of 2000 ("IDS Act"), which created the Office of Indigent Defense Services ("IDS Office") and its 13-member governing body, the Commission on Indigent Defense Services ("IDS Commission"). On July 1, 2001, IDS assumed a number of responsibilities, including: 1) overseeing the provision of legal representation to indigent defendants and others entitled to counsel under North Carolina law; 2) developing training, qualification, and performance standards to govern the provision of legal services to indigent persons; 3) determining the most appropriate methods of delivering legal services to indigent persons in each judicial district; and 4) providing services in the most cost-effective manner possible.
IDS’ goals are to recruit the best and brightest North Carolina attorneys to represent indigent defendants; to ensure that every attorney representing indigent defendants has the qualifications, training, support, resources, and consultation services they need to be effective advocates; to create a system that will eliminate the many recognized problems and conflicts caused by judges appointing and compensating defense attorneys; and to manage the state’s indigent defense fund in a more efficient and equitable manner. To accomplish these goals, the IDS Commission developed rules to govern the continued delivery of services in cases under its oversight. Those rules are posted on the IDS website (www.ncids.org) and published in North Carolina Rules of Court—State (West) and Annotated Rules of North Carolina (LexisNexis). In addition, the IDS Office regularly works with the Office of the Capital Defender and Office of the Appellate Defender to recruit and evaluate attorneys for the statewide capital and appellate rosters; to ensure that qualified attorneys are appointed to those cases in a timely manner; to authorize necessary expert services to aid attorneys once they are appointed to such cases; and to compensate attorneys and experts for their services in such cases in a timely, uniform, and equitable manner.
IDS has taken significant strides with a number of other initiatives designed to improve the quality, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of the state’s indigent defense program. For example, IDS has expanded the Office of the Capital Defender and created new regional capital defender offices, created several new district public defender offices and expanded some existing offices, and worked with the public defenders to develop new plans for the appointment of counsel in non-capital cases in each public defender districts. IDS has also increased the communication and resource-sharing among the private bar through specialized listservs and other electronic means, and has worked with the School of Government and other groups to develop and offer a number of new and innovative training programs. After conducting a statewide assessment of juvenile delinquency representation in conjunction with the American Bar Association, IDS established a new statewide Office of the Juvenile Defender to work on initiatives to improve the quality of services provided to juveniles facing delinquency proceedings around the state. IDS has developed performance guidelines for appointed counsel in non-capital criminal cases, and is in the process of developing performance guidelines for attorneys who represent parent-respondents in abuse/neglect/dependency and termination of parental rights cases. IDS is also working to design a tool to measure the quality and efficiency of indigent defense systems at the county, regional, and statewide levels. For more information about the work of the IDS Commission and Office, go to www.ncids.org and click on "Reports & Data" to access IDS’ most recent report to the General Assembly.
North Carolina’s passage of the IDS Act makes it a national leader in the development of quality, cost-effective, and accountable indigent defense programs. Several other states—including Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, and Texas—have looked to the IDS Act for guidance in improving their own indigent defense programs. In the coming years, IDS should continue to realize the goals of improving the quality of North Carolina’s indigent defense program and controlling its cost.