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The National Public Defense Workload Study Report is Now Available!

The National Public Defense Workload Study is the culmination of comprehensive review and analysis contained in 17 previously released state-level studies, many of which were conducted by the ABA. For the first time, we have a comprehensive national workload study based on empirical data and the consensus of indigent defense experts, and which reflects the standards of modern criminal defense practice. This study demonstrates the widespread problem of excessive defender caseloads, and can be used to assist public defense agencies, policymakers, and other stakeholders in evaluating defender workloads.

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ABA Adopts Newly Revised 10 Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System

At its August 2023 Annual Meeting, the ABA adopted the Revised 10 Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System. The original 10 Principles, adopted by the ABA in 2002, have been used by public defense stakeholders across the country to assess the quality of their jurisdictions’ public defense systems. In 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Principles form “the building blocks of a well-functioning public defender system.” These new Principles retain the original core focus on independence, organization, caseload management, resources, and training, while updating them for the needs of the modern legal system. Some of the key revisions include a greater focus on data collection and transparency, a deeper understanding of the need for systematic evaluation, specialized training, and cultural competency, as well updated workload guidance based on the latest empirical data. As many public defense offices face out-of-control workloads and historic turnover, these Revised Principles provide a way for courts, legislatures, administrators, and other public defense stakeholders to ensure that providers and their clients are adequately resourced. In the coming months, look for more guidance from ABA SCLAID on how to best implement this new tool.

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2023 Public Defense Summit - Achieving Political Independence and Manageable Caseloads in a Modern Public Defense System

Summit Program Recordings Are Now Available

2023 marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright guaranteeing the right to counsel for criminal defendants. But even six decades later, public defenders and other indigent defense providers continue to struggle against outside challenges to provide their clients with the best possible representation. The 2023 ABA Public Defense Summit focused on ensuring manageable workloads, protecting public defender independence, and other such challenges.

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2022 ABA Public Defense Summit - Management and Oversight of Assigned Counsel and Contract Systems

Public Defense Summit

Summit Program Recordings Are Now Available

In almost every jurisdiction in the country, some portion of public defense work is undertaken by private practice attorneys operating as either court appointed or contract counsel. The 2022 ABA public defense summit focused on the needs and oversight of such attorneys, whether they were representing all individuals charged with crimes in their jurisdiction or just a small portion thereof.

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Punishing The Poor

ABA SCLAID partnered with Arnold Ventures to produce the report "Punishing the Poor: An Assessment of the Administration of Fines and Fees in New Mexico Misdemeanor Courts." The report examines the fines and fees charged to indigent defendants facing low-level charges in New Mexico courts, and found that best practices, such as those found in the ABA Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees, are routinely ignored. Many defendants are assessed fines that that they cannot afford, and are subsequently jailed for their inability to pay. This system can trap poor defendants in a cycle of fines and jail time that not only increases mass incarceration, but which interrupts employment and other life activities that would have allowed them to pay these fines in the first place.

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Ten Principles on Reducing Mass Incarceration

Adopted at the 2022 ABA Annual Meeting, the Ten Principles on Reducing Mass Incarceration articulate the critical steps necessary to help to combat the drivers of mass incarceration and ultimately reduce the number of people in jails and prisons nationwide.

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The Oregon Project: An Analysis of the Oregon Public Defense System and Attorney Workloads Standards

ABA SCLAID and Moss Adams collaboratively conducted the Oregon Project, An Analysis of Public Defense Attorney Workloads. Published in January 2022, the Oregon Project includes an analysis of historical public defense caseloads and staffing, as well as a Delphi process, which resulted in attorney workload standards. Combining these analyses, the project determined that, at current caseloads, Oregon has a very substantial deficiency of contract public defense attorneys.

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The New Mexico Project: An Analysis of the New Mexico Public Defense System and Attorney Workload Standards

ABA SCLAID and Moss Adams collaboratively conducted the New Mexico Project, an analysis of public defense attorney workloads. Published in January 2022, the New Mexico Project included an analysis of historical public defense caseloads and staffing, as well as a Delphi process, which resulted in attorney workload standards. Comparing these analyses, the project determined that New Mexico has a significant deficiency of public defense attorneys.

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Use of the Delphi Method in ABA SCLAID Public Defense Workload Studies: A Report on Lessons Learned - By Stephen F. Hanlon, Malia Brink & Norman Lefstein.

Together with data and system analysis experts, ABA SCLAID has conducted public defender workload studies in Missouri, Louisiana, Colorado, Rhode Island and Indiana. This new report details ABA SCLAID’s use of the Delphi Method to establish jurisdiction-specific public defense workload standards and details lessons learned while conducting these studies.

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COVID-19 Resources

Pandemic Resources

The ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense (SCLAID) has launched a web page that consolidates resources from across the country to assist the access to justice community in addressing the many challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Court Watching

ABA Court Watching

ABA SCLAID and CRSJ have coordinated on a number of court watching efforts. These efforts have focused on misdemeanor and other low-level criminal and civil infraction courts.

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Reports and Publications

Reports and Publications on Indigent Defense

Here you will find recent books and reports concerning indigent criminal defense, as well as links to archived materials.

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Events, Webinars and CLE

Indigent Defense Events

SCLAID regularly hosts, sponsors or co-sponsors a variety of events on topics relating to public defense or of interest to the public defense community. This page features upcoming events, meetings and CLE, as well as past events available on video.

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ABA Standards and Policies

Standards and Policies

View standards and policies related to public defense.

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Public Defense News

News and news archives available at Email Mark Pickett at [email protected] with news, jobs, events, or subscription requests.

Subscribe to Public Defense News

The Public Defense News is a weekly newsletter for public defenders, appointed indigent defense counsel, public defense administrators, and other people, including non-lawyers, who work in the public defense space. Subscribe and receive news updates on public defense issues from around the country, job postings, and other items of interest to public defense providers (almost) every Wednesday.

Technical Assistance

Find information regarding technical assistance to courts, bar associations, and other entities.