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Public Defense

On March 18, 1963, in Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court laid the foundation for our nation’s public defense system. In their ruling the Court made clear that providing counsel to those facing criminal charges was a “fundamental right, essential to a fair trial.” Today we continue to fight to make the constitutional promises of counsel and of a fair trial realities.

Gideon in 60 Video Campaign

Defense lawyers fight every day to protect the rights and interests of both individual clients and the community. Listen to the voices of public defense share their stories about the work they do, the role they play, why they do this work, and the ways in which they serve their communities.


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Lend your own voice - record a video sharing:

  • What inspires you to do this work?
  • End a common misconception people may have about public defense.
  • Amplify the message of why public defense matters today.

Record Your Own

Social Media Toolkit

Join NACDL in celebrating #Gideonat60 by sharing on social media your recognition and appreciation for the tireless work done by public defenders and court-appointed counsel across the country.


Like the images you see? You can celebrate public defense yourself with these amazing graphic art images. Tag us on social media and check out our toolkit for inspiration.

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Public Defense Op-Eds

Public defense lawyers are powerful advocates in and out of the courtroom. Read about the power of public defense in these opinion articles.

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Have a story to share? Our communications team stands ready to help you bring your voice to life through an op-ed.

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Featured Products

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Public Defense Scholarships

It is critical to ensure public defense lawyers have access to high quality training. Through generous grant funding, NACDL is able to offer scholarships to help defray the costs of registration and travel. Interested in our scholarship program?  

Apply Here

Want to help support training opportunities for public defense lawyers? Make a donation to NACDL’s Foundation for Criminal Justice.

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Everyone has theright to have a skilled and zealous advocate when they face a criminal accusation. However, in many states and localities people are left waiting months or more to have a lawyer assigned to their case. Through our amicus work and direct litigation, NACDL works to ensure the right to counsel is protected, advocating for the prompt appointment of counsel.

In cooperation with WACDL, the NYU Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law, and Winston & Strawn, NACDL filed a lawsuit in Wisconsin to redress the state’s inability to timely provide access to counsel.

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The past decades have seen growth in the use of systemic litigation to address underfunded, understaffed, under-resourced, and overloaded public defense systems. Read more about systemic litigation across the country. 

Litigation History

Gideon at 60: The Unfunded Mandate

Check out this podcast from the Center for Justice Innovation exploring Gideon’s legacy.

Podcast host Matt Watkins speaks with roundtable panelist and participant Keisha Hudson, Chief Defender of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, and Eve Primus, Yale Kamisar Collegiate Professor of Law at Michigan Law, and Alexis Hoag-Fordjour, Assistant Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Center for Criminal Justice at Brooklyn Law School.

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1962-2023: Still Fighting for the Dream - Gideon Graphics

Show your love and support for public defense lawyers; highlight the power of public defense to change lives and change communities; or demonstrate your public defender pride with our Gideon anniversary graphics.

Like the graphics?  Download these and more

Questions about NACDL's work in Public Defense, contact Director of Public Defense, Bonnie Hoffman



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