WHEREAS The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to counsel in all criminal cases and 50 years ago in Gideon v. Wainwright the Supreme Court made clear that lawyers in criminal cases “are necessities, not luxuries;”1
WHEREAS, the most important goal of any indigent defense system is to provide high quality, effective, representation for accused persons regardless of their economic status;
WHEREAS, NACDL believes that fully resourced and appropriately trained and supervised attorneys are essential to fulfill the right to counsel, and that this is best accomplished through the use of hybrid indigent defense systems characterized by well-resourced public defender institutions, supplemented by well-resourced panels of private attorneys;
WHEREAS for over 40 years the federal indigent defense delivery system, which utilizes both Federal Defenders and private attorneys who accept appointments as panel attorneys under the Criminal Justice Act (CJA), has served as a model indigent defense delivery system;
WHEREAS, the federal indigent defense system has served as a model system that advocates can point to in support of efforts to reform states, counties and localities with seriously deficient indigent defense systems;
WHEREAS the current budget cuts to federal indigent defense have been devastating and have forced federal defenders to layoff and furlough attorneys, close offices, eliminate training, and have restricted access to interpreters, experts, investigators and other essential components of an effective defense;
WHEREAS the current budget cuts to federal indigent defense have resulted in the delay of cases, which prolongs pretrial incarceration and impacts the administration and management of court dockets across the country;
WHEREAS austerity measures have placed a disparate burden on the federal defender system without a corresponding reduction in the resources available to prosecutors;
WHEREAS impending budget cuts will result in massive layoffs that will almost certainly decimate the federal defender system, degrade the overall quality of federal indigent defense, and undermine the administration of justice.
WHEREAS, the alternatives of either cutting CJA panel rates or deferring payments to panel attorneys imposes an undue hardship on small and solo practitioners and creates a potential financial conflict of interest;
WHEREAS any reduction to the already minimal amount paid to panel attorneys will further dissuade qualified and experienced counsel from accepting court appointments and inadequate funding for CJA panel attorneys undermines the administration of justice;
WHEREAS reassigning cases from federal defenders to panel attorneys upsets the careful balance of the hybrid system and merely transfers the expense associated with these cases from one aspect of the indigent defense budget to another without producing any meaningful reduction in cost;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that NACDL opposes any further cuts to Federal Defender offices;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACDL opposes any reduction in the rate of compensation paid to assigned counsel under the CJA;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACDL calls upon Congress to fully fund the federal indigent defense delivery system;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACDL calls upon Congress to create a federally funded, independent Office of Defender Services that is free from political and judicial influence.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACDL authorizes the president and executive director to advocate for the restoration of adequate funding for federal indigent defense services and to seek such solutions as may best resolve the crisis with the least risk to the quality of representation for the accused.
1 Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 344 (1963)