Indigent Defense

The right to counsel, embodied in the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, is the primary safeguard of a defendant’s rights within the criminal justice system. Adequate representation ensures that all other rights – to be free from unlawful search and seizure, against self-incrimination, to confront witnesses, to a jury trial, etcetera – are protected. In 1963, the United States Supreme Court, in Gideon v. Wainwright, made clear that the right to counsel applies to every citizen, regardless of whether the defendants can afford to pay an attorney. Sadly, in the United States today, the right to counsel is not being enforced. Lack of standards, oversight and funding have led thousands of people to be processed without their right to counsel.

NACDL is committed to ensuring quality representation for all accused individuals and has set out to help reform inadequate state and local indigent defense systems through technical assistance, public education, advocacy, and litigation.

Training Requests

As a result of generous grant funding, NACDL’s Indigent Defense Department will select two jurisdictions to provide on-site training to public defenders and/or private assigned counsel regularly engaged in indigent criminal defense.  Ideally, training programs in jurisdictions with full-time public defender or legal services offices will also include providers of conflict representation, including alternate defender offices and contract or court-appointed counsel.  More information about the training programs and selection criteria is available on the application form.

Interested organizations/entities should complete the training application and may, if desired, submit no more than three letters of interest (from prospective participants, administrators, court personnel, or others) supporting the need for and interest in a training program.  Where appropriate, organizations are encouraged to coordinate with neighboring jurisdictions to solicit a program with maximum impact.

Applications and supporting documentation must be received no later than March 31, 2015.  After initial review, finalist jurisdictions may be requested to provide additional information in writing or by phone interview.  Final decisions of recipient jurisdictions will be made by April 30, 2015, with training expected to be completed by November 30, 2015.  Application materials are accepted via email only to Diane Price, Indigent Defense Training Manager for NACDL, at with “Training Request” in the subject line.

Scholarship Program

NACDL is pleased to announce a new program of scholarship assistance for indigent defense providers. The scholarships will be awarded in the form of full or partial reimbursement of the registration costs of the excellent training programs offered by NACDL and other national organizations.  Limited travel reimbursement stipends may also be awarded to qualifying individuals to help defray the costs of travel and lodging.

More information about the scholarships, including detailed eligibility criteria, is available on the application forms. The scholarship application for NACDL training programs is available here. The Multi-Organizational Indigent Defense Training Scholarship Application is available here. Answers to FAQs are available here.

Application Deadlines: Scholarship applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, with review of applications for a particular program beginning approximately three months prior to the start date of the program. Although there is no formal application deadline, applications should be submitted at least six weeks prior to the start date of a program for the best chance of receiving travel awards.

DOJ Acts Boldly In Case to Expose Indigent Defense Deficiencies

Washington, DC (September 25, 2014) - With the nation's indigent defense system mired in a persistent crisis of underfunding as a result of the failure of the states to enforce the Supreme Court's landmark Sixth Amendment right to counsel decision in Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), the Department of Justice has acted boldly in a case that seeks to expose the resulting deficiencies. In the case of Hurrell-Harring et al. v. New York, a class action brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union challenging systemic deficiencies in the indigent defense services in several New York counties, the Department of Justice, on behalf of the federal government, today filed a Statement of Interest in the pending litigation. To read more, click here.

Gideon at 50 Project

A Three-Part Examination of Indigent Defense in America

Gideon_web_logoRationing Justice is a 50-state survey of assigned counsel rates that identifies the current hourly rates paid to private attorneys who represent the indigent in criminal cases as well as the maximum fee that can be earned by those attorneys. The ABA Ten Principles of a Public Delivery System calls for the active participation of the private bar in indigent defense, even in areas where the volume of cases is sufficiently high to warrant the establishment of a public defender's office. Private attorneys must be available to handle case where the public defender's office has a conflict and to handle cases when public defender caseloads become excessive. Without their participation, our nation's indigent defense systems cannot guarantee that all defendants will receive equal justice under the law.

Part II is a 50-State Survey of Financial Eligibility Guidelines for Assigned Counsel that documents how states decide who is “too poor” to hire a lawyer. The survey looks at how states define “indigency” and whether or not that definition is consistent with ABA standards for providing defense services. It identifies which states rely on the Federal Poverty Guidelines when determining eligibility for assigned counsel, and explains the origin of the Federal Poverty Guidelines and how they cannot accurately predict who is “too poor” to hire a lawyer. The survey then looks at the fees and costs imposed on supposedly indigent defendants who are assigned counsel. These include application fees, payable at the time a request for counsel is made, and reimbursement fees, payable at the conclusion of the case or over time. The report concludes that in adopting unduly restrictive eligibility criteria and other policies, too many states have been able to ignore the central premise of Gideon that “lawyers in criminal courts are luxuries, not necessities.”

Learn more about this project.

News Of Interest

"New Report Confronts Lack of Lawyers at Bail Hearings," by Marcia Coyle, National Law Journal, March 18, 2015.

"Judge Approves Criminal Defense Settlement ," by Joel Stashenko, New York Law Journal, March 18, 2015.

"DOJ Weighs In on Public Defender Suit," by R. Robin McDonald, Daily Report, March 17, 2015.

"10 judicial districts expected to run out of money to pay public defenders by June," by Scott Rogers, The News-Star (Louisiana), March 16, 2015.

"Proposal to change indigent defense provisions abandoned," by Carrie Teegardin, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, March 2, 2015.

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