NACDL - Gideon at 50: Redefining Indigence: Financial Eligibility Guidelines for Assigned Counsel (Part 2)

Gideon at 50: Redefining Indigence: Financial Eligibility Guidelines for Assigned Counsel (Part 2)

This 50-State Survey of Financial Eligibility Guidelines for Assigned Counsel 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.

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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 necessities, not luxuries.”

This project was made possible in part by support from the Foundation for Criminal Justice (FCJ). Read more about the work of the FCJ and opportunities to support its efforts.