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Mass. Court Tightens Rules on Indigent Defendants

By DENISE LAVOIE, AP Legal Affairs Writer
BOSTON (AP) — The state’s highest court has tightened rules governing when criminal defendants can get lawyers appointed at taxpayer expense.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday in a series of cases, including one of a man charged with killing his family.

Justices said defendants who ask to have court-appointed lawyers must prove they are indigent. The court found that the burden is on defendants to prove they can’t afford to pay for a lawyer, not on probation officials.

The court also found that retirement account funds can be considered when calculating whether a defendant is indigent, ruling in the case of a Winchester man accused of killing his wife, two young children and mother-in-law. The SJC rejected Thomas Mortimer IV’s claim that his retirement account cannot be used to help pay for his defense.

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