On April 13, TCP Senior Counsel Madhu Grewal testified in Philadelphia at a hearing of the Judicial Conference of the United States’ Committee to Review the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) Program. Enacted by Congress in 1964, immediately following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Gideon v Wainwright, the CJA is intended to secure the right to counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment for all federal criminal defendants. It provides a system for appointing and compensating lawyers to represent defendants in federal criminal proceedings who are financially unable to hire a lawyer or other defense services on their own.
In her testimony, Ms. Grewal noted:
“Although it has been more than 50 years since Gideon was decided, the state of public defense is in desperate need of reform. Indigent defense services at state and local levels are widely described as woefully inadequate. In contrast, the federal public defense system is often touted as a ‘gold standard’ due to its established structure and funding stream. However, TCP and its coalition partners – many of whom have previously testified before the CJA Committee – believe the federal system is also in need of critical reforms in order to fully comport with the Sixth Amendment.
Accordingly, TCP offers the following recommendations:
Create a National Center for Defense Services or similar independent, coordinating entity to ensure the independence of indigent defense services and the resources needed for these services.
Ensure parity in funding mechanisms between indigent defense services and prosecutors’ offices.
Establish and enforce work load limits for all indigent defense counsel.
Collect meaningful data about the state of indigent defense.”
Ms. Grewal’s testimony is based on The Constitution Project’s National Right to Counsel Committee 2009 report, Justice Denied: America’s Continuing Neglect of Our Constitutional Right to Counsel.