CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the House Finance Committee are questioning why the state has to pay so much for attorneys to represent criminal defendants who can’t afford their own.

The legislature is asked to add money to the budget each year to meet a shortfall in the Public Defender Services agency–this year it’s $17 million.

Several members of the House Finance Committee appeared frustrated Friday during a budget hearing at the state capitol.

“I’m concerned that people (defendants) that do have the means to pay are not coming up with their fair share and are expecting us to come up with it down here,” Del. Brent Boggs (D-Braxton) said. “I say that not to deny anyone who truly needs funds for representation, but this is truly year after year after year.”

County circuit judges determine if a defendant qualifies for a court-appointed attorney, not the agency according to Public Defender Services Deputy Director Donald Stennett.

“The agency itself does not follow-up to check behind the validity of all of the people that are requesting the assistance,” Stennett told the finance committee.

Stennett added, from his experience, there’s only a detailed review of the financial affidavit if it’s brought to the prosecutor’s or judge’s attention that there may be something incorrect.

Boggs and other members of the committee including Chair Eric Nelson (R-Kanawha) expressed concerning of having to add millions of dollars each year to to the program to cover the bills of the court-appointed attorneys.

“I’m sure that in some jurisdictions this (the cost) is checked into but I’m not completely satisfied that throughout the state we are making the effort,” Boggs said.

The money allocated in the next state budget for Public Defender Services will probably be spent within six months after the budget year begins, Stennett said.

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