Indigent Defense

What is the state of the field?

In March 2015, we held a meeting was to assess the state of the indigent defense field and guide the development of a comprehensive research agenda, with particular focus on key issues in indigent defense research.

Download the notes and presentations (pdf, 101 pages)

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right â€¦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 research findings provided where available):

Date Modified: June 14, 2016