Constitutional Law

'Indigent' Defendants Must Prove Financial Status and Tap Retirement Accounts, Top Mass. Court Rules


In a series of rulings, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ratcheted up the requirements for obtaining a taxpayer-funded defense in criminal cases, the Associated Press reports.

It is up to the defendant to prove his or her indigent status, by a preponderance of the evidence, the court held Friday in one case. And before he or she can do so, it is necessary to exhaust retirement savings, it held in another.

“Defendants with substantial savings in IRAs, accessible after forfeiting an early withdrawal penalty, can reasonably be considered to have funds available for their defense and should be made to exhaust those accounts before the Commonwealth expends its limited resources on their representation,” the court ruled in a unanimous decision concerning Thomas Mortimer IV.

In a third case, the court held that parents and a spouse or significant other can also be required to ante up for criminal defense costs if they live in the same household and ordinarily contribute financially to it.

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