Standards for Defender Services

Quick Guide to National Standards for Indigent Defense

National standards for the provision of indigent defense representation provide the best yardstick for measuring the extent to which clients receive the representation guaranteed to them by the Sixth Amendment. (See Standards for the Delivery of Public Defense Services.) These national standards are generally of two types: (1) attorney performance standards, which set out the specifics of what each attorney should do in representing each client; and (2) systemic or structural standards, which establish the specifics of the defense system in which each attorney works. Here we have listed all of the pertinent standards, divided into these two categories. In some instances a single publication addresses both attorney performance and system; in those cases the publication is listed under both categories.

Performance Guidelines for Criminal Defense Representation

NLADA’s Performance Guidelines offer an excellent, comprehensive and worthwhile definition of what constitutes good solid trial lawyering.  They give realistic meaning to the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel and to the ultimate goal for all trial counsel: “zealous and quality representation.”

ABA Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System

Adopted in February 2002, the American Bar Association's Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System distill the existing voluminous ABA standards for public defense systems to their most basic elements, which officials and policymakers can readily review and apply.  In the words of the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, the Ten Principles “constitute the fundamental criteria to be met for a public defense delivery system to deliver effective and efficient, high quality, ethical, conflict-free representation to accused persons who cannot afford to hire an attorney.”  Our nation’s chief law enforcement officer, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, has called the ABA Ten Principles the “building blocks” of a functioning public defense system.