Technical Assistance, Standards-Based Assessments, Evaluations

NLADA’s Justice Standards, Evaluation & Research Initiative (JSERI) evaluations have served as an impetus for a number of jurisdictions, including Louisiana and Michigan, to move toward establishing constitutionally effective indigent defense systems.  JSERI conducts a comprehensive review of every aspect of an indigent defense system.  National standards, the U.S. Constitution and cases interpreting it, and a state’s constitution, laws, and regulations together make up the yardstick against which a jurisdiction’s system is measured.  

The American Bar Association’s Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System is the most widely accepted and used compilation of national standards for systems to provide public defense services.  In the words of the ABA, 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.”  All ten of the Principles are interdependent.  That is, the health of an indigent defense system cannot be assessed simply by rating a jurisdiction’s compliance on each of the ten criteria and dividing the sum to get an average “score.”  For example, just because a jurisdiction has a place set aside in the courthouse for confidential attorney-client discussions does not make the delivery of indigent defense services any better, if the appointment of counsel comes so late in the process, or if the attorney has too many cases, or if the attorney lacks the training, as to render those conversations ineffective at serving a client’s individualized needs.  Rather, indigent defense systems must meet the floor that is set out in each and all of the Ten Principles in order to establish a system in which defense professionals have the time, tools, and resources to provide constitutionally effective assistance of counsel.
JSERI's evaluations include: reviewing budgetary, caseload, and organizational information for a multi-year period; conducting on-site visits to observe courtroom and defense provider practices; and interviewing key criminal justice system policymakers, including judges, prosecutors, defenders, law enforcement, court personnel, and state/county officials.  In this way, we ensure that the full spectrum of perspectives is solicited to form as completely and accurately as possible the true picture of a public defense system.

JSERI staff is also available to provide technical assistance to public defense system executives or other policymakers seeking systemic improvements.  Contact Jon Mosher for more information.

Publication Date: 2010