U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Implementation and Impact of Indigent Defense Standards, December 2003

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2003
93 pages
This document discusses the impact of indigent defense standards in assessing the need for standardization of this constitutionally mandated governmental service.
All criminal defendants in the United States facing charges that might result in incarceration are constitutionally entitled to legal representation at government expense if they cannot afford to pay a private lawyer. About four out of five defendants qualify for such representation. Standards were developed about three decades ago to make indigent services more uniform, effective, and efficient. Versions of these standards have been implemented to varying degrees in many State and local jurisdictions, and have been compiled, catalogued, and condensed, but their effectiveness has never been studied. This research examined the impact of indigent defense standards through 2 basic means: a 50-State survey, and more detailed verification and analysis of impacts, correlated with manner of implementation, in 4 geographically diverse jurisdictions using standards in 4 different ways. The results showed that the implementation of indigent defense standards can have numerous and varied impacts for both indigent defense and the criminal justice system. Some of these impacts are keeping defender workloads manageable, adequate defender-office staffing, more uniform quality of public defense services, and stratification of attorneys according to levels of skill, training, and experience. The impacts are overwhelmingly viewed as positive not only by indigent defense agencies, but by the judiciary, prosecutors, legislative authorities, and funding agencies. The results also showed that the extent of the positive impacts was dependent upon the manner and extent of their enforcement. 6 appendices

Date Published: December 1, 2003