News Release

Groundbreaking Report Offers Solutions to America's Indigent Defense Crisis as Nation Marks 50 Years of Gideon v. Wainwright

Washington, DC (January 8, 2013) – As the nation enters the 50th anniversary year of Gideon, the landmark Supreme Court decision clarifying that the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel applies regardless of whether a defendant can afford to pay an attorney, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid & Indigent Defendants (ABA/SCLAID), with invaluable support provided by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), today release a critically important new report, National Indigent Defense Reform: The Solution is Multifaceted.

This report, prepared by Professor Joel M. Schumm of the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, documents a day-long convening last year of 18 leading innovators in the indigent defense field representing all branches and levels of government, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law professors, and non-governmental reformers. It is, in short, a blueprint for reform, offering a panoply of approaches for improving America’s indigent defense systems. The report provides an in-depth discussion with myriad, concrete reform recommendations, including “reclassification and diversion, which help reduce the number of cases entering the system…. delivery of services, including the importance of standards and commissions, the central role of the private bar, and development of training…. [and] the need for collaboration and cooperation with others within and outside the criminal justice system in order to achieve significant and sustainable reform.”

Last year at the American Bar Association’s National Summit on Indigent Defense, United States Attorney General Eric Holder stated clearly what NACDL and the ABA well know:

Across the country, public defender offices and other indigent defense providers are underfunded and understaffed. Too often, when legal representation is available to the poor, it’s rendered less effective by insufficient resources, overwhelming caseloads, and inadequate oversight…. the basic rights guaranteed under Gideon have yet to be fully realized. Millions of Americans still struggle to access the legal services that they need and deserve – and to which they are constitutionally entitled. And far too many public defender systems lack the basic tools they need to function properly.

Indeed, in that same speech, Holder went on to announce the dedication of some $1.4 million to a new Justice Department grant program aimed at providing support for efforts to reform America’s indigent defense system and address the very problems he acknowledged plague those systems.

“NACDL is committed to the full realization of the promise of Gideon. We will work tirelessly until it is achieved,” said NACDL President Steven D. Benjamin. “This report adds valuable insight and perspective to NACDL’s significant research in this area, as reflected in our prior reports, including Minor Crimes, Massive Waste: The Terrible Toll of America's Broken Misdemeanor Courts and Three-Minute Justice: Haste and Waste in Florida’s Misdemeanor CourtsFixing America’s broken indigent defense systems is a priority for NACDL, and we are proud to have been a part of this important addition to that work.” 

And ABA President Laurel G. Bellows said: "The ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants is pleased to join the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in presenting these valuable recommendations for solving the nation's indigent defense crisis. Every criminal defendant, whether rich or poor, deserves a qualified lawyer to defend against the state's charges. We hope that policymakers will consider our joint report, along with ABA guidelines, standards and other resources available at, to make needed changes and fully implement the Supreme Court's Gideon decision."

This project was co-chaired by Professor Adele Bernhard of Pace Law School, Professor Robert C. Boruchowitz of the Seattle University School of Law, and NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer. In addition to this report and the convening out of which it arises, this same BJA grant-funded project allowed the ABA and NACDL to provide national defender trainings in Atlanta, Austin, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Lubbock, and Memphis on topics including forensic science, client-centered representation and advocacy skills.

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To learn more about Gideon, indigent defense, and the work NACDL is doing in this area, visit

You can find links to this and other NACDL reports at

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Ivan J. Dominguez, Director of Public Affairs and Communications, (202) 465-7662 or

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.