Indigent Defense Resource Guide

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  • Center on Court Access to Justice for All. Backed by the Sixth and Fourteen Amendments respectively, indigent defense involves the constitutional mandated free representation of those accused of certain crimes required by both federal and state constitutions. Because defendants are entitled to “effective” assistance of counsel, which varies from state to state, common issues for the courts include: the qualifications of counsel, particularly in capital cases; who pays for indigent defense; who qualifies as indigent; and how the defender system is administered.

Links to related online resources are listed below. Non-digitized publications may be borrowed from the NCSC Library; call numbers are provided.


Compensation for Attorneys

Determining Indigency

Indigent Defense Funding and Caseloads

  • Darryl K. Brown Epiphenomenal Indigent Defense. (2010). Missouri Law Review. This article describes why we can add state funding for indigent defense counsel to the list of social events that have proven intractable to explanation and prediction, and what this conclusion means for indigent defense funding policy.
  • McCauley, James M. Excessive Workloads Create Ethical Issues for Court-Appointed Counsel and Public Defenders. (October 2004). Virginia Lawyer 53, n. 3: 27 (Scroll to page 2.)  Over nine months, the Spandenberg Group studied Virginia's indigent defense system and found that the system did not adequately protect indigents.  Lack of oversight and necessary resources were the primary factors cited in the study. Pages 88-93.
  • Lisa R. Pruitt and Beth A. Colgan. Justice Deserts: Spatial Inequality and Local Funding of Indigent Defense. (2010) Arizona Law Review. This article maps legal conceptions of (in)equality to the socio-geographic conception of spatial inequality in relation to the funding and provision of indigent defense services in the state of Arizona.
  • Keeping Defender Workloads Manageable. (2001). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance Provides. information on strategies for making workloads manageable; withdrawal form cases; caseload standards; and caseload versus workloads.
  • Susan Herlofsky and Geoffrey Isaacman. Minnesota's Attempts to Fund Indigent Defense: Demonstrating the Need for a Dedicated Funding Source. (2011). William Mitchell Law Review. While the courts have expanded the right to counsel, they have provided no guidance to states on how to deliver indigent defense or how to pay for indigent defense.
  • Minor Crimes, Massive Waste: The Terrible Toll on America`s Misdemeanor Courts. (2009). This report takes the position that the significant rise in misdemeanor cases nationally has created inequities by overloading criminal defense systems in some jurisdictions.
  • John A. Rogers. Provisions of Indigent Defense in West Virginia. (2008). National Center for State Courts, Future Trends in State Courts 2008. Expenditure on indigent defense continues to be a national problem. West Virginia's administrative structure delivers quality defense with very low administrative costs.
  • Armstrong, Ken, and Justin Mayo. Public Defense Alternatives. (April 2004). Seattle Times. This article includes a map of Washington state by county and type of indigent defense system used. Caseloads are also discussed.
  • Wallace, Scott and David Carroll. The Implementation and Impact of Indigent Defense Standards. (December 2003). This study evaluates the impact that standards of indigent defense have on the overall quality of defense that is offered to low income criminal defendants.

Public Defenders Offices Organizations

  • ABA`s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense. SCLAID examines issues relating to the delivery of civil legal services to the poor, and criminal defense services to indigent persons accused of crimes.
  • Association of Federal Defense Attorneys. Formed in 1994, AFDA is the only association devoted exclusively to the interests of federal criminal defense attorneys. The organization has been formed with a commitment to provide attorneys with the educational resources and support that are essential to represent defendants in federal district and appellate courts effectively.
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. NACDL advances the mission of the nation's criminal defense lawyers to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or other misconduct. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's more than 10,000 direct members—and 79 state and local affiliate organizations with another 28,000 members—include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, active U.S. military defense counsel, law professors, and judges committed to preserving fairness within America's criminal justice system. The site is designed as both an open forum for the discussion of criminal justice policies and practice and a private online service for members of NACDL.
  • National Legal Aid and Defender Association. NLADA is the oldest and largest national, nonprofit membership association devoting 100 percent of its resources to serving the broad equal justice community. NLADA represents legal aid and defender programs, as well as individual advocates serving the equal justice community, in two major ways: by providing first-rate products and services and serving as a leading national voice in public policy and legislative debates on the many issues affecting the equal justice community. They also serve as a resource for those seeking more information on equal justice in the United States.
  • Spangenberg Group. Is a nationally recognized research and consulting firm specializing in improving justice programs.
  • Matthew Kleinman and Cynthia G. Lee. Virginia Indigent Defense Commission Attorney and Support Staff Workload Assessment. (March 2010). National Center for State Courts, Research Division. A comprehensive and objective assessment of attorney and staff resources in Virginia public defender offices.

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