Public Defense Infrastructure

While there are a variety of ways in which public defense is provided, to fulfill their constitutional obligations systems must have an infrastructure which ensures timely access to resourced, skilled, and zealous advocates and which operates as an independent and equal partner in the community's criminal legal system.

There is no one size fits all approach to public defense. Communities will have differing needs driven by factors such as geography, population, and caseload. However, there are core components necessary to ensure the defense function is able to fulfill its responsibilities to its clients and the community. 

NACDL Works to Improve Public Defense Delivery Systems


Federal Indigent Defense 2015: The Independence Imperative


NACDL's Letter to Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors

NACDL's Letter to Indiana Task Force on Pubic Defense

NACDL Report: State of Crisis 

NACDL Report: Rush to Judgement and Summary Injustice

NACDL Resolutions Regarding Public Defense System Infrastructure

Right to Counsel at Initial Appearance Before a Judicial Officer at which Liberty is at Stake or at which a Plea of Guilty to Any Criminal Charge May Be Entered. (Feb. 2012)

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Support for Hybrid Public Defense Delivery Systems (Oct. 2017). 
Whenever the population and caseload needs support it, a public defense delivery system should include full-time institutional defenders as well as meaningful participation of private attorneys.

Selection and Qualifications for Public Defense Leadership (Feb. 2018)
Principles regarding the selection, retention, and removal of public defense system leadership include:

  • Public defense leadership, management, and operations should be independent and insulated from control by actors whose interests may be directly or indirectly adverse to the public defense function;
  • Public defense leadership, management, and operations should have a demonstrated commitment to and experience in: 
    • Delivering high quality effective, and zealous advocacy on behalf of public defense clients
    • Confronting, addressing, and working to eliminate racial disparity and bias in the criminal justice system;
    • Promoting and supporting high standards in individual advocacy on behalf of clients and/or for the operation of public defense systems; and
    • Advocating for the public defense function within the relevant governance structure to secure necessary funding, staffing, resources, and organizational independence.
  • Those directly involved in the selection, retention, and removal of public defense leadership, management, and operations should be committed to the public defense function and should represent the diversity of the community served by the public defense provider.

Other Resources on Public Defense Infrastructure

Defender Standards of Practice

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