By David Sexton, Intern | Office of Communications, Education, and Outreach
In Webb v. Baird, 6 Ind.13 (1854), over a century prior to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), the Indiana Supreme Court recognized the right to counsel of all persons facing incarceration who could not afford an attorney. Over the next 166 years, Indiana has built a robust system of public defense upholding the spirit and law of that 1854 ruling.
In December 2019, Stephen Owens retired from the position of State Public Defender, after serving for eight years as leader of the office. His full career in the State Public Defender’s Office lasted for over 33 years. The State Public Defender’s Office is a judicial branch agency. The Public Defender is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the Indiana Supreme Court.
The justices of the Supreme Court, after a four-month selection process, chose Amy Karozos to serve a four-year term as State Public Defender. She has assumed the role, well-attuned to the legacy and importance of public defense in Indiana. Karozos is a graduate of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law. She was a Project Director for the Indiana Public Defender Council and most recently worked as a Marion County Juvenile Court public defender.
Karozos is an Indiana native, born and raised. “There are a lot of wonderful things about Indiana. There are issues in our legal system that I want to be a part of helping improve too. I wanted to stay and make it a better place.”
Karozos’ passion for public defense is rooted in justice and creating fair outcomes for clients. “I like that feeling when everyone is satisfied with the process—especially kids—when they think they were treated fairly…it makes such a difference,” says the former juvenile public defender.
From her experience working in the State Public Defender’s Office for several years before her appointment, Karozos knows the dedication of her staff. She looks forward to reaching as many clients as possible—expanding their services—with the hard work of her team.
Karozos now carries on the legacy of the longest-active office in Indiana’s public defense system. The Indiana Legislature established the Office of State Public Defender in 1945. Its primary responsibility today is to ensure fairness and assist in post-conviction proceedings. The agency also provides post-conviction investigation, legal research, support, and representation at hearings and on appeal in all capital cases. The office locates attorneys to provide these services at the expense of the county when requested by county trial courts.
Amy Karozos leads a talented and dedicated group of lawyers who are extremely busy. There were 28,704 individuals in the Department of Correction on February 28, 2009, and the State Public Defender opened files in 546 cases in FY 05-06, 553 in 06-07, and 564 in 07-08.
The State Public Defender’s Office stands as just one agency in a trifecta of organizations supporting the infrastructure of public defense in Indiana. It works with two collaborating institutions: the Indiana Public Defender Council and the Indiana Public Defender Commission—both of which fill separate but cooperative roles alongside the State Public Defender.
The Public Defender Council is a collection of all public defenders, contractual pauper counsel, and attorneys regularly appointed to represent indigent defendants or those eligible to be appointed in a capital case. The Council has around 1,400 members and is governed by an 11-member Board of Directors. It was established as a grant-funded project in 1976 and was made a state agency the following year. While the Council does not directly provide legal representation or advice, it does create resources for public defenders around the state and conducts relevant research and studies in the practice of public defense. The Council
“maintains liaison contact with study commissions, organizations, and agencies of all branches of local, state, and federal government that will benefit criminal defense as part of the fair administration of justice in Indiana.” (I.C. 33-40-4-5)
The Public Defender Commission was established in 1989 in response to concerns about the quality of defense services in death penalty cases. The Commission is responsible for setting standards and guidelines for public defense in capital cases, indigent defense services at the county level, and the delivery of indigent defense services across the state. The Commission has expanded its role in county funding for public defense. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, the Commission reimbursed counties for nearly $300 million in expenses for public defense. There are now 62 counties eligible for such reimbursements, which provide up to 50% of expenses in capital cases and 40% in non-capital cases.
State Public Defender Amy Karozos remains conscious of how Indiana can advance the cause. “The best way to support public defense is investment; we need the state to invest money into public defense.” She points to a report from the Indiana Task Force on Public Defense, which notes several areas for improvement: allowing reimbursement to counties for misdemeanor cases; increased state funding, oversight, and technical support; and continued research in the criminal justice system concerning public defense. She also notes that a program like pretrial release is a step in the right direction for criminal justice.
While Karozos draws attention to the potential reforms of public defense, she continually returns to the core of her office’s mission: providing the best possible services to its clients. With her fundamental spirit and tenacity, Amy Karozos works toward leading the next era of public defense for Hoosiers.