Resolution in Support of Public Defense


The right to counsel is a central principle embodied in the Bill of Rights. This resolution encourages states to ensure that all individuals accused of crimes are properly represented by counsel.

Resolution in Support of Public Defense

Resolution in Support of Public Defense

WHEREAS, the United States Constitution guarantees “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense”;

WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court, federal and state courts, and federal and state constitutions, guarantee all who are accused of a crime the right to the assistance of counsel at all critical stages of the proceedings;

WHEREAS, those accused of a criminal offense who lack the personal resources needed to hire counsel to challenge the government’s evidence or present their case require access to publicly funded defense services;

WHEREAS, a robust defense function protects both the individual and the community;

WHEREAS, effective and independent defenders can shine a light on government overreach and abuses of power and preserve the protections of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, protect the innocent from wrongful conviction, facilitate treatment, services, and other outcomes that reduce recidivism, and help ensure fair trials;

WHEREAS, the collateral consequences of even minor criminal charges create long-lasting barriers to employment, education, and housing;

WHEREAS, excessive caseloads prevent even the most dedicated of defenders from having the time needed to properly and fully investigate the government’s accusations;

WHEREAS, inadequate compensation coupled with significant student debt prevents many skilled and committed attorneys from pursuing a career in public defense;

WHEREAS, assigned counsel rates that fail to keep pace with the basic costs of operating a law practice and fee structures that set limitations on compensation without regard to the needs of individual cases deter meaningful participation in public defense by the private bar;

WHEREAS, inadequate support for pubic defense services can cause individuals to languish in jail without counsel for prolonged periods, or enter guilty pleas without the benefit of counsel; and

WHEREAS, the fundamental principles of equality and justice cannot be fully realized under our adversarial system without a well-resourced public defense system and prompt access to effective assistance of counsel;


Access to Public Defense Services:

That every person accused of a crime be afforded counsel in all cases in which incarceration can occur. States should strive to make counsel available as early as possible.

Effective Public Defense Delivery Systems:

That whenever a jurisdiction’s population, needs, and caseload warrant it, a public defense delivery system includes a public defender office as well as meaningful participation of the private bar and provides representation consistent with the best practices in the legal community;

That public defense delivery systems be adequately funded to ensure attorneys have reasonable workloads so as to allow them to provide ethical and competent representation pursuant to prevailing professional norms;

That public defense providers regularly receive relevant training;

That public defense providers have access to appropriate support services such as investigators, social workers, and experts; and

That compensation for public defense providers is sufficient to ensure the recruitment and retention of qualified and skilled advocates taking into consideration for public defenders the rates being paid to other government employees performing similar functions, and for court-appointed counsel the overhead costs and prevailing attorneys’ fees for the jurisdiction.

Independence and Equality:

That to ensure the defense may fulfil its role in the adversarial system, the defense should be insulated from undue influence, involvement, and control by actors whose interests are directly or indirectly adverse to the attorney-client relationship. Supervision of the public defense system by the judiciary should be no greater than that which is exercised over the private bar; and

That in order to maintain a vibrant, healthy, and robust adversarial process the defense function be included as an equal and valued partner in the criminal justice system.

Approved By the ALEC Board of Directors: September 3, 2019