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Overview of Indigent Defense

Date Published
July 22, 2019

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. (Select a topic to see details on each project and access any resulting publications.) 

Date Published: July 22, 2019