Inadequate Assistance to Poor Capital Defendant Challenged in CourtFebruary 10, 2012

Last week, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ordered state officials to explain their refusal to pay funds approved for expert assistance for indigent capital defendants in capital cases prior to trial. The order was issued in the case of Amy Bishop Anderson, who is appealing the State of Alabama’s refusal to provide adequate funding to prepare for her capital trial.

The law requires the state to provide poor defendants with funding for experts if they are needed for a fair trial. For years, court-approved experts who worked for indigent defendants in Alabama could not be paid for their work until after the trial concluded, often months or even years later. As a result, it has become extremely difficult for indigent defendants in Alabama to find qualified expert assistance.

Experts who work for prosecutors in Alabama don't have to wait for payment.

These problems are heightened in the case of Amy Bishop Anderson, an indigent defendant facing capital murder charges in Madison County. Ms. Bishop pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect and her lawyer initially hired a qualified neuropsychiatrist to examine her for the defense. This expert identified additional medical testing necessary to diagnose Ms. Bishop according to accepted professional standards - testing which required funds from the state.

The trial judge ordered state officials to pay for the tests, but they refused. As a result, with less than two months left before her trial is set to begin, Ms. Bishop cannot afford the medical assistance needed to prepare her defense.

EJI is now appealing Ms. Bishop’s case to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, asking that court to require state officials to pay for the expert assistance necessary for a fair trial.