Assessing the Indigent Defense System

Author(s): 
Erica J. Hashimoto
Publication Date: 
February 20, 2013

ACS is pleased to redistribute “Assessing the Indigent Defense System” by Erica J. Hashimoto, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Georgia School of Law.  First released in September 2010 as part of a series on federal responses to the indigent defense crisis, Hashimoto’s Issue Brief remains relevant today upon the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright. While the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has released new data from its census of public defender offices since 2010, Hashimoto’s recommendation that “BJS collect and analyze additional data that can be used to assess and improve the indigent defense system” remains applicable.     

According to Hashimoto, without this data, we will continue to go without answers to fundamental questions, like are states “appointing counsel for indigent defendants as required by the Constitution[?]” An even more difficult question to answer without data, Hashimoto asserts, is do “appointed counsel meet a constitutional minimum standard of competence[?]”

Two focal points, for which BJS data collection would prove worthwhile and provide answers to these questions, are misdemeanor defendants and rural felony defendants. “These data will provide valuable information not only about the indigent defense system, but also about criminal justice systems across the states,” Hashimoto writes. She concludes, not “until we have data establishing the nature and magnitude of the problems and the most effective mechanisms for addressing those problems,” will we “begin the process of systematically solving them.  


“Toward a More Perfect Union: A Progressive Blueprint for the Second Term” is a series of ACS Issue Briefs offering ideas and proposals that we hope the administration will consider in its second term to advance a vision consistent with the progressive themes President Obama raised in his second Inaugural Address. The series should also be useful for those in and outside the ACS network – to help inform and spark discussion and debate on an array of pressing public policy concerns. The series covers a wide range of issue areas, including immigration reform, campaign finance, climate change, criminal justice reform, and judicial nominations. To view the series, click here.