Casey Anthony is back in the middle of a media controversy – this time, because the current defense team has filed a motion asking that the judge confirm her indigent status, essentially ordering the State of Florida to pay her legal defense fees and expenses

First things first, this shouldn’t be a big surprise to capital defense lawyers.  Once the State of Florida put the death penalty back into the case, the financial cost of defending Casey Anthony skyrocketed. Lots of death penalty lawyers know how fast the money goes, and what it means to have a young, single woman with no visible source of income as the client. 

Casey Anthony is providing the nation with a prime example of what it costs to try a Florida indigent defense death penalty case.  That’s good.  

This is not because Casey Anthony’s case is something unusual (although there are many ways to characterize the trial for the murder of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony as not the norm).  Anytime that the prosecutor decides to pursue capital punishment when trying a defendant, then the state’s attorney has defined how big the defense work will be.  Not the defense attorney. 

Here’s why: in each case where the death penalty is at issue, the defense must prepare not only all the issues regarding (1) guilt vs. innocence, but also (2) life vs. death. The life vs. death phase of the trial is called the "sentencing phase," or "penalty phase," and it is here where the prosecution advances its arguments regarding aggravating circumstances, and the defense pursues its arguments regarding mitigating factors.

First issue: is the defendant Casey Anthony indigent?  Yes, according to the Orange County Clerk.

It has already been decided by the Orange County Clerk’s office that Casey Anthony is indigent. Judge Strickland will approve this determination upon the defense’s motion.  The Clerk’s office makes it decision based upon affidavits and supporting documentation filed with the Clerk.  The Judge is having a evidentiary hearing on the matter of his approval of the decision.

Once an individual is found to be indigent under the law, then all those ‘right to counsel’ laws and court opinions — all pursuant to the U.S. Constitution — come into play.  Just like any other defendant facing a possible death sentence, Casey Anthony has an indigent’s right to effective legal counsel. 

Second issue: will additional information on her financial status cause the Judge to rule differently than the Orange County Clerk on Casey Anthony’s Indigent Status? 

In a hearing that is being televised by various media, including HLN (the same channel that brings us Nancy Grace and Jane Velez Mitchell), the judge is hearing argument and evidence on how much the State of Florida should pay for Casey Anthony’s legal fees and expenses. 

You can watch the indigent defense cost hearing online at video provided by the Houston Examiner (  Judge Strickland is expected to rule tomorrow (Friday). 

Evidence is being provided about what money has been placed into the Casey Anthony defense coffers, and how much is left to defend the death penalty case (trial phase as well as any penalty phase).  The Judicial Administrative Commission (JAC) is recommending to the Court that Judge Strickland consider the defense’s financial information in detail before making his decision. Others are calling into question why she’s asking for indigent status now, when most defendants ask for this at the outset. 

How much is left in Casey Anthony’s defense budget? That answer is clear: zero

How much has Anthony collected towards legal fees and expenses? Evidence shows that Anthony has received $200,000 from ABCNews; $70,000 from former defense counsel Californian Todd Macaluso, and $5000 from an anonymous donor.  This money has already been spent since Casey was first charged back in 2008. 

How was this spent? According to the evidence provided at the hearing, some of the lawyers are working for free (Kinney-Baden; newcomer Cheney Mason) and some have received some legal fees (Baez) and some have had their expenses covered (Lyon). 

What does the defense argue that the indigent defense money will cover?  Details on what the defense projects have been (and presumably will be) necessary to properly try this case through both phases will be provided to the Judge; however, it’s clear that the usual suspects will be there: costs of experts, investigators, transcripts, subpoenas, travel costs, etc. 

Costs through the end of trial will continue to grow.  Experts at the guilt phase and at the penalty phase will be very different, because different issues are in focus depending upon the issue being addressed.  All these experts will be costly, billing by the hour as well as incurring travel time, etc.  Mitigating factors need a different kind of expertise than forensic fact-facting during a guilt phase.  Practitioners understand this already, without knowing the details of the case. 

Casey Anthony is providing a very much needed perspective into the current crisis in indigent defense, both in the State of Florida and across the country.  It is very, very expensive to try a death penalty case, no matter who the defendant may be.  And when that defendant is indigent, then every single dime of that cost comes out of the taxpayer’s pockets. 

For more information on the crises facing indigent defense attorneys in death penalty cases ….

We’ve got a continuing series of articles dealing with the explosive growth of the legal right to counsel and the correlated expense that is entailed over at our JD Supra site.  If you’re interested in this issue, then please check back there periodically as more articles on this topic are posted.

For even more information, please visit the new website of the Florida Capital Resource Center as it continually adds additional information to support defense attorneys representing defendants in Florida death penalty cases.