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Justice Programs Office

The Right to Counsel - Gideon Project

For over thirty years, American University's Justice Programs Office (JPO) of the School of Public Affairs has been actively engaged in efforts, both nationally and internationally, to improve the policies and practices of justice systems at all levels, with particular attention to protecting the right to counsel and to addressing the overarching systemic issues that have stymied the practical implementation of "equal justice" required by the Sixth Amendment. Critical to these efforts has been a focus on promoting the foresight, leadership, and collaborative approaches to issues affecting the justice system that are needed to ensure efforts to make the right to counsel are a meaningful reality in the patchwork of models of public defense delivery that presently exist. Selected report of the JPO's efforts to improve the delivery of public defense services span over 50 jurisdictions, ranging from the re-building of a public defense service capability in New Orleans after "Katrina" to an assessment of the initial implementation experience in Montana following legislative establishment of a statewide defender program.

BJA Gideon/Right to Counsel Technical Assistance Project

Beginning October 1, 2013, American University, in partnership with the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) and with the support of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, is initiating a project to provide technical assistance to public defense providers to promote their enhanced ability to adhere to the ABA Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System.

The project is launching its services with a national survey of public defense providers to obtain their perspectives on the degree to which they are able to adhere to each of the Principles, the degree to which they appear able to comply with selected "benchmarks" associated with each of the Principles, obstacles encountered in meeting the Principles, promising practices they have developed, and areas for which technical assistance would be useful. The survey responses, coupled with other relevant information relating to the challenges public defense providers are addressing, will provide the foundation for developing a multi-pronged plan for technical assistance services which the project will provide.

In addition to preparing a summary report of the assessment results, the project will provide a range of technical assistance services focusing on common issues of current import to public defense providers in terms of being able to adhere to each of the Ten Principles as well as exemplary practices providers have reported. The project's services will include:

  • Facilitated listserv discussions and other mechanisms to promote information exchange and networking;
  • Interactive web meetings to promote discussion among defense providers on issues of current import;
  • Compilations of exemplary practices, sample forms, and other resources developed by public defense providers;
  • Fact Sheets/Discussion Summaries on issues of current Interest
  • Expert consultation on issues of urgent import through web meetings and other forums;
  • On-site technical assistance

50th Anniversary Symposium: Commemorating the Fifth Anniversary of the Gideon Decision

In commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the Justice Programs Office (JPO) of the School of Public Affairs at American University, in concert with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA),the American Council of Chief Defenders (ACCD), and the Washington College of Law at American University, convened a one day cross-disciplinary Symposium to address the policy issues critical to making the Sixth Amendment right to counsel a reality. The Symposium was held on March 18th – Gideon's Anniversary date, with a plenary address by Abe Krash, one of the key attorneys representing Clarence Gideon.

The  Symposium brought together approximately thirty thought-leaders from different sectors – victim advocates, client advocates, law school faculty, defenders, prosecutors, judges, legislators, researchers, policymakers and other leaders -- to develop a blueprint for initiating a major and much-needed policy reform agenda in the field of indigent defense. The Symposium's working title was "Answering Gideon's Call Outside the Courtroom: Policy Reform Strategies to Protect the Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel." The major thrust of the Symposium was to make transparent the critical underlying policy issues that have challenged the practical implementation of "equal justice" required by Gideon and the Sixth Amendment and to provide an important opportunity to jumpstart attention to the critical reform issues facing state and local justice systems to make provision of the right to counsel a reality. The day's discussions examined Gideon's promise and the current contours of this fundamental right, given the realities of today's criminal justice systems and the expanded scope required for effective representation, and culminated with an "action plan" that the organizations and others represented could further develop with their respective constituencies.

Gideon Case Materials

Gideon Symposium Program

Public Defense Standards and Resources

Legal AID/Public Defense Services: A Global Perspective

What is Legal Aid? What is Public Defense? What is Indigent Defense? In the United States, "public defense" or "indigent defense" services generally apply to services for criminal matters, while "legal aid" generally applies to services for civil matters. In other countries, the term "legal aid" often covers services for both categories of cases. Legal aid has come to serve as an umbrella term that covers free or low cost legal assistance from lawyers, paralegals and other legal professionals that is provided to those deemed "indigent" – or cannot afford to retain an attorney -- regarding matters entailing criminal, civil, administrative and international law. The following is a short overview of the diversity of approaches countries are using to provide "legal aid". 

Legal Aid/Public Defense Services: A Global Perspective (Summary)

Right to Counsel Policy Initiatives (COMING SOON!)


Caroline Cooper, Research Professor and Director

Justice Program Office, School of Public Affairs, American University