Our United States Constitution mandates fairness in the criminal justice system, without regard to race, culture, gender or socio-economic level. The ABA Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System are accepted as the clearest compilation of standards for indigent defense systems that will meet the requirements of the right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Our mission is to achieve indigent defense systems in every jurisdiction in America that meet the ABA Ten Principles and therefore the requirements of the Constitution.
We work toward the achievement of our mission through carefully coordinated efforts on several simultaneous fronts. This approach to reform is the result of years of experience and refinement of exactly what works, what does not work, and the necessary components to achieve reform in the first instance, and then ensure the implementation and ongoing efficacy of that reform.
The first step toward reform often occurs when a jurisdiction evaluates its current system. JSERI serves as an independent evaluator. We comprehensively analyze every aspect of an indigent defense system: review budgetary, caseload and organizational information for a multi-year period; conduct on-site visits to observe courtroom and defense provider practices; and interview key criminal justice policy-makers and stakeholders, including judges, prosecutors, defenders, law enforcement, court personnel, and county/state officials. This ensures that the full spectrum of perspectives is solicited to form as completely and accurately as possible the true picture of the public defense system. National standards, state and federal constitutions, case law, statutes, and regulations together make up the yardstick against which a jurisdiction’s system is measured. Finally, we prepare a detailed report fully informing a jurisdiction as to the extent to which they are achieving constitutionally required representation of counsel in their system.
Gideon Expertise and Technical Assistance
Reform efforts in jurisdictions are led by a variety of bodies and coalitions. Sometimes it is a state’s highest court that is leading reform, sometimes a legislatively convened commission, sometimes a state bar association, and sometimes an ad hoc group of concerned lawyers and community leaders. Whatever group is attempting to achieve reform, JSERI provides guidance and technical expertise about models that have been successful in other jurisdictions, pitfalls and errors to avoid, and independent outside expertise on the requirements of national standards and the Constitution.
The work of achieving and sustaining reform of a jurisdiction’s indigent defense system is never carried out by a single organization, agency, or group of people. Rather, it is the combined result of differing types of efforts, including education, legislation, and litigation, from many sides. JSERI’s role is in education and leading the creation and coordination of coalitions at three levels. The national coalition brings together national organizations that are concerned about public defense, with JSERI ensuring that, while each organization works independently, all are informed of the work done by others. Local coalitions are made up of the stakeholders, policymakers, unlikely allies, and citizenry in a jurisdiction, who together build consensus, resolve disagreements, conduct media campaigns, and educate the community to create political will for a constitutionally effective system of public defense. Criminal justice system coalitions take over once reform is achieved, to ensure implementation and sustainability. They are an active, ongoing collaboration of judges, prosecutors, defenders, law enforcement, corrections, lawmakers, and budget administrators, who ensure that the effects on every component of the criminal justice system are taken into consideration as policy and law are being made.
JSERI is developing a public defense Portal to gather and make publicly available comprehensive information about the provision of indigent defense in every jurisdiction in America. This interactive Portal will provide, for every jurisdiction: complete information about the structure and funding of the indigent defense system; identification of the specific agencies and people who provide indigent defense; standards governing indigent defense provision; legislation, statutes, and case law regarding indigent defense provision; implementation models for carrying out indigent defense services; and a complete library of policy papers and academic writing.
Gideon Legacy and Fellows
Because of the graying of the indigent defense leadership community, there is serious danger that the historical knowledge of indigent defense leaders over the past 47 years since Gideon will be lost forever. Through the Legacy project, JSERI gathers video stories by and about leaders of indigent defense throughout the country. Through the Fellows project, JSERI creates intern programs for law schools, where law students who are interested in public defense are brought into systemic work, in part through gathering information and conducting court observations in specific jurisdictions. JSERI coordinates a series of mentor relationships between the Legacy project and the Fellows project, where indigent defense leaders conduct seminars and workshops to teach law students about indigent defense and serve as mentors to them in their work.
Through Gideon Alerts, JSERI keeps the public defense community, government leaders, and citizens updated on evolving developments in ensuring the right to counsel throughout the nation. Gideon Alerts provide a broader context to current media stories that spotlight struggling public defense systems and celebrate victories in those states that are more readily ensuring the promise of Gideon v. Wainwright. Our Gideon Forum Groups provide a secure place for private discussion among similarly situated people about their common issues and concerns in public defense.
Contact JSERI Staff
202-452-0620 | email@example.com
National Legal Aid & Defender Association
1140 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 900
Washington, DC 20036
How You Can Help
Many people and organizations care about fairness in our justice systems, but it is difficult to know how to help. If you would like to contribute generally to the work of JSERI, you can do so at varying levels of:
- Gideon Constitutional Defenders (donation of $10,000 or more);
- Gideon Guardians (donation of $1,000 - $9,999);
- Gideon Friends (donation of $10 to $999).
If you prefer to contribute to one of the specific projects, you can do so by:
- a funding gift designated for a specific project;
- offering your time to assist in the work of a specific project;
- offering physical resources and talents such as computers, website development, etc.
All contributors (unless you prefer anonymity) will be recognized on JSERI’s web-pages.