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.

Right to Counsel: State and Local Policy Makers and Criminal Justice Stakeholder Initiative

In continued effort to support Bureau of Justice Assistance's Right to Counsel Initiative, American University and BJA will convene a task force to raise awareness on the part of State and Local policy leaders of the critical issues relevant to the present crisis in public defense, and the systemic approach(es) -- involving both criminal justice and non-criminal justice stakeholders -- that are needed to ensure the effective delivery of public defense services and the right to counsel provided under the Sixth Amendment. The goal of this initiative is to spearhead a national conversation on establishing effective public defense delivery systems throughout the country. The task force will develop a "collective vision", that can be shared by policy makers and criminal justice stakeholders at multiple levels, regarding what is entailed in adequately providing the Right to Counsel, and, most important, the action planning necessary to implement this vision in practice terms.

BJA Gideon/Right to Counsel Technical Assistance Project

Bureau of Justice Assistance U.S. Department of Justice

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, initiated 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 launched 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, including selected "benchmarks" associated with each of the Principles, obstacles encountered in adhering to 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 project's technical assistance services. These services will focus on addressing 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 promoting the sharing of information on exemplary practices providers have developed. 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 import;
  • Expert consultation on urgent issues through web meetings and other forums;
  • On-site technical assistance

For more information, please click Gideon Technical Assistance Project Announcement.

Featured Publications

Survey: Adherence of Public Defense Providers to ABA Ten Principles
Issues Paper #1: Summary Survey Findings
November 2014

Issue Paper#1: Summary Survey Findings report back to the field. Preliminary summary results of a survey to ascertain perceptions of public defense providers regarding ability to adhere to each of the ABA Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System, the degree to which selected operational benchmarks referenced in the Commentary to the Principles were being achieved, issues being addressed, and areas for technical assistance needed. The full survey report along with the executive summary is forthcoming.

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


Preeti Menon, Senior Policy Associate
Justice Program Office, School of Public Affairs, American University