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Public Defense Fee Increases in Capital Cases

The rate of pay for attorneys who defend indigent clients in capital cases in Ohio will increase effective July 17, 2023.

The decision to raise the hourly rate to $140 was made by the Supreme Court of Ohio Capital Case Fee Attorney Council. The group, established by statute in 2016, consists of five appellate judges who work with the Ohio Public Defender’s Office to determine capital defense payments.

The council cited inflation and alignment with fees in other jurisdictions as the primary reasons for the fee change – the first in five years. This past year, Indiana raised their hourly rate from $90 to $129. Federal rates have increased by 8% – up to $200 – since 2018.

“The rate also maintains a quality and confidence in the representation for indigent defendants,” said council chair and Fourth District Court of Appeals Judge Michael Hess.

The $140-per-hour rate is applicable at all stages of capital cases, including trial, appeal, and postconviction proceedings. In previous years, the Ohio Public Defender covered 100% of the costs for any cases. Now, counties pay a portion of the costs through their legal defense funds.

To be certified for appointment by a court to represent a defendant in a death penalty case, an attorney must meet experiential and educational prerequisites. Those seeking capital designations can be certified as lead or co-counsel for trial representation or as appellate counsel. Certification depends on an attorney having specified amounts of trial or appellate experience.