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Senador Vincent Hughes

Philadelphia, PAMarch 15, 2024 − Senator Hughes hosted a press conference with fellow lawmakers and legal leaders from across Pennsylvania to recognize a historic milestone for Pennsylvania public defense and the overall equality of the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system.

In the 23-24 budget, lawmakers included bipartisan legislation, Senate Bill 371, from Senator Hughes and Senator Lisa Baker that established a new Indigent Defense Advisory Committee and allocated $7.5 million for PA’s indigent defense. Governor Shapiro has proposed $10 million for the 24-25 budget.

“For most individuals, especially low-income individuals who can’t afford private council, criminal justice reform starts with a well-trained and appropriately funded legal defense,” said Senator Hughes. “This first-time indigent defense funding and the formation of the Indigent Defense Advisory Committee is the start of ensuring equal justice for everyone in Pennsylvania.”

A study conducted by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee in 2021 found that over half of criminal cases in Pennsylvania utilized a public defender. Currently, Pennsylvania ranks 45th in total indigent defense funding, according to the Sixth Amendment Center.

“This initial downpayment on justice was funded with a $7.5M appropriation. Now, our call to action is to increase that investment by 25% in our next budget. States around the country are in triple digits with how much they fund public defense, and it’s time Pennsylvania provides the same fair and equal access to justice.”

Senator Hughes was joined by a large coalition of supporters and leaders in the legal community including the Defender Association of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Bar Association. the Barrister’s Association, the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, and ACLU Pennsylvania, who all highlighted the importance of equal justice and adequate legal resources on both sides of the courtroom.

Ron Johnson, a recent exoneree who wrongfully spent thirty years in prison, also joined the press conference and said, “A lot of innocent people are in prison or on trial. And too many people are stuck with a defender who isn’t able to fully help. I’m glad to see this work being done and I’m glad everyone here today is passionate to make things better.”

Other speakers who joined the press conference included, Senator Tim Kearney; Rep. Napoleon Nelson; Sara Jacobson, Chair of the Indigent Defense Advisory Committee (IDAC) and Executive Director of the Public Defender Association of Pennsylvania; Kate Cacciamani, Vice-Chair of the IDAC; Keisha Hudson, Chief Defender at the Defender Association of Philadelphia; Christine Lora, Chief of the Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office and a member of the IDAC; Carrie Wood, ADA and Assistant Supervisor of the Conviction Integrity Unit, The Office of the District Attorney of Philadelphia (DAO); Robert Listenbee, First Assistant District Attorney, the Office of DAO; Kevin Harden, Board Member of the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia; Jen Coatsworth, Chancellor, Philadelphia Bar Association; Elizabeth Randol, Legislative Director, ACLU Pennsylvania; Marsha Levick, Chief Legal Officer, Juvenile Law Center; Rahat Babar, Deputy Executive Director, Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania; and Kristen Gibbons Feden, Attorney at Anapol Weiss.

A full video of the press conference is available online.