Justice Deserts: Spatial Inequality and Local Funding of Indigent Defense

This Article maps legal conceptions of (in)equality onto the socio-geographic conception of spatial inequality in relation to the funding and provision of indigent defense services in the State of Arizona. In particular, we examine county-to-county variations in funding and structures for providing this constitutionally mandated service. Our analysis focuses on disparities in funding among five Arizona counties, and we also scrutinize those counties’ provision of indigent defense for several problems commonly associated with underfunding: caseloads and competency, financial conflicts of interest, lack of parity with prosecution, and the risk that a single case will overwhelm a county’s defense system. Despite some gaps in publicly available information detailing the funding and provision of indigent defense across all Arizona counties—information that could be developed through discovery should litigation be initiated—we argue that evidence of county-to-county variations in funding and delivering indigent defense is sufficient to suggest that the systems of some Arizona counties are at risk of violating the U. S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel and Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause.