The guarantees of the 6th Amendment are not met by simply providing the defendant a warm body with a bar card. An accused is in need of and entitled to a zealous, capable advocate who can provide effective assistance consistent with prevailing professional norms. When public defense attorneys are burdened with excessive caseloads they are unable to fulfill their ethical and constitutional responsibilities to their clients and the community.

Overloaded lawyers lack the time to conduct investigations, review discovery materials, perform legal research and file motions, communicate with clients, and prepare for court. Outdated caseload standards which failed to consider the unique needs of varying case types or the complexities of modern criminal practice must be replaced. Public defense providers must be given the means to properly track case data and case time. Public defense systems must be provided adequate resources and personnel, including attorneys and support staff, to provide proper representation. And court systems must allow public defenders to refuse cases when workloads get too great.

Public defense attorneys and public defense providers have the ethical responsibility to challenge caseloads when they become excessive and prevent the attorney from fulfilling their ethical obligations to their clients.{1} Eight Guidelines of Public Defense Related to Excessive Workloads.(ABA 2009).

NACDL stands ready to help ensure both public defenders and assigned counsel have proper workload controls and the resources needed to perform their constitutional duties on behalf of their clients and their community.

NACDL Reports on Excessive Caseloads

Meaningful workload studies are one way a system can examine current practices and develop data-driven standards. In 2017, NACDL and the ABA examined the Rhode Island's public defender system. Utilizing the Delphi Method, the study concluded the RIPD's current caseload required 136 attorneys; at the time they had 49.
Read more in: The Rhode Island Project

NACDL reports on how the explosive growth of misdemeanor cases has placed a staggering burden on America's courts. Defenders across the country are forced to carry caseloads that leave too little time for clients to be properly represented. As a result, constitutional obligations are unmet and taxpayer money is wasted. Read more in Minor Crimes, Massive Waste (2009). 

More on misdemeanors can be found in: NACDL's Report 
Three Minute Justice: Haste and Waste in Florida's Misdemeanor Courts

Additional resources on public defense caseloads

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