The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right …to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."
In federal court, criminal defendants facing charges that could result in imprisonment have the right to representation by legal counsel. It was not until a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases in the 1960s and 1970s, however, that the Court established this right in state criminal proceedings. The most notable of these cases was Gideon V. Wainwright. In Gideon, the Court held that an indigent person accused of a serious crime was entitled to the appointment of defense counsel at state expense.
Providing indigent criminal defendants with access to effective legal counsel is critical to ensuring due process.
Rigorous research can play an integral role in indigent defense services, policy and practice development. Research will help the field understand barriers to obtaining legal representation, identify and asses the means to address these barriers, and develop recommendations that are easily accessible to indigent defense practitioners and other stakeholders across the country.
NIJ has supported indigent defense research since the 1970s. Most recently, NIJ awarded grants for research on the following topics (links to final report included when available):
- Examining the Effectiveness of Indigent Defense Team Services: A Multisite Evaluation of Holistic Defense in Practice
- Early Intervention by Counsel: Presence of Counsel at Defendants’ First Appearances in Court
- Waiver of Counsel in Juvenile Court (pdf, 42 pages)
- Evaluating the Effect of Holistic Indigent Defense Services on Case Outcomes: A Natural Experiment in the Bronx
- The Role of Indigent Defense for Defendants with Mental Health Disorders (pdf, 27 pages)
- Measuring the Effect of Defense Counsel on Homicide Case Outcomes (pdf, 59 pages)