Federal Public Defense Information

Federal public defense issues and developments

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The Federal Public Defense System

In 2015 NACDL issued its review of the federal public defense system, Federal Indigent Defense 2015: the Independence Imperative. The report was the culmination of an 18-month examination of the federal public defense delivery system, from its inception to its current operations. Informed by interviews with 130 individuals, including current and former federal judges, court administrators, public defenders and CJA lawyers and related survey data as well as review of hundreds of pages of reports, emails, and memoranda, the report's core conclusion: control over the federal indigent defense system must be insulated from judicial interference in order to have a vibrant, constitutional federal public defense system. 

Read more about NACDL's research and report 

On the heels of NACDL's work Chief Justice Roberts created the CJA Review Committee. Chaired by Judge Kathleen Cardone (W.D. Tex.), the 12 person committee, comprised of federal judges, prosecutor, and defense attorneys, worked for two and a half years, hosting 7 public hearings across the country, hearing nearly 100 hours of testimony from 229 witnesses (including NACDL Past President, Gerry Morris), and reviewing countless documents. Their conclusion, delivered to the Federal Judicial Council in the Fall of 2017 (although not made public until September 2018), was a unanimous recommendation that Congress create an independent Federal Defender Commission within the judicial branch of government, but outside the oversight of the Judicial Conference. The Commission would have sole authority to set policy and practices related to the provisions of federal defense, a system that nearly 250,000 people each year depend upon for effective representation in federal court.

Read more about the CJA Review Committee's Work

Currently the Judicial Conference has approved 29 of the Review Committee's 35 interim recommendations, but the central premise, the need for an independent defense function, remains unfulfilled.

NACDL News on Federal Indigent Defense

The Mysterious Case of a Very Public Inquiry and a So Far Very Private Report, Norman Reimer, Medium.com, Feb. 12, 2018
NACDL News Release Sept. 13, 2018

Federal Legislation Impacting Publc Defense

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Clemency Project 2014 (CP14) launched after Deputy Attorney General Cole asked the legal profession to provide pro bono assistance to federal prisoners who would likely have received a shorter sentenced if they'd been sentenced today. Led by NACDL, CP14’s working group included the ABA, ACLU, FAMM, and numerous federal and community defenders. Over the course of the project nearly 4,000 volunteer lawyers diverse practice backgrounds assisted in the screening of more than 36,000 federal prisoners seeking consideration. In its two years of operation, CP14 attorneys submitted 2,571 clemency petitions.

In total President Obama granted 1,715 commutations. More than 50% of those (894) were from petitions supported by CP14.The work of CP14 resulted in the reduction of more than 13,500 years of incarceration;{1} 1 For life sentences, a life span of 80 years was used. $436,000,000 in incarceration costs were saved;{2} 2 Savings based on a cost of $87.61 per day and lives and dreams which seemed lost were returned.

Learn about some of those granted clemency

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