Indigent Defense Innovation
In this 2018 series, TIDC catalogs innovations in indigent defense that can make lawyers more effective, efficient advocates.
Ongoing, confidential client communication is critical to effective representation. But time and distance sometimes make it difficult for attorneys and clients to connect. New technologies—including videoconferencing, automated calling, and texting—are now making it easier for lawyers to communicate with their clients. Read more.
- Study: University of Chicago Crime Lab, Preventing Failures to Appear in Court (2018)
- Article: Jason Tashea for ABA Journal, Text-Message Reminders are a Cheap and Effective Way to Reduce Pretrial Detention (2018)
- Report: Pretrial Justice Center for Courts, Use of Court Date Reminder Notices to Improve Court Appearance Rates (2017)
- Report: Jim Calloway and Ivan Hemmans for ABA TECHSHOW 2018, The 411 on Texting for Lawyers (2018)
- Product: Uptrust
Renowned surgeon Dr. Atul Gawande studied why people often die from surgery. He found that basic tasks, like washing with soap, were the cause of death in more than half of the cases. As procedures become more complex, people forget small but important details. He argues that there is a low-cost, low-tech solution to this modern problem: checklists. In his book, The Checklist Manifesto, Dr. Gawande illustrates how major industries have used concise, step-by-step instructions to save lives and money. Read more.
- Tool: San Francisco Public Defender checklists, toolkit, and training materials (2018)
- Study: The Center for Court Innovation, Consistency During the Court Process The San Francisco Public Defender’s Checklist Project Pilot Study (2018)
- Tool: North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services training materials index, with checklists by subject
- Tool: Bronx Defenders arraignment checklist (2013)
- Article: Atul Gawande for the New Yorker, The Checklist (2007)
- Blog: Jules Epstein for Temple Law Advocacy & Evidence Blog, Do Lawyers Need Checklists to Reduce Error?
Court processes are often technical and obscure. That’s why legal counsel is so important. Yet some legal work remains consistent from case to case. By automating certain tasks, defendants can more easily get the guidance they need, and attorneys can do more with less. Read more.
- Tool: QnA Markup Editor (chatbot creator)
- Tool: Due Processr (online calculator for indigency determination and sentencing in Massachusetts)
- Article: Jason Tashea for SIMLab, A Good Name is Hard to Clear: A National Report of Digital Expungement Applications (2016)
- Blog: Code for America, Restoring Opportunity, Delivering on the Promise Voters Intended (2018)
Participatory defense invites family and friends of those accused of a crime to help with their defense. Family members are often the best historians and are dedicated to recounting personal history to help mitigate a loved one’s sentence. Read more.
- Blog: MacArthur Fellows 2018: Raj Jayadev (2018)
- Article: Maura Ewing for the Atlantic, How Prisoners' Family Members Can Assist Overworked Public Defenders (2017)
- Product: Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project (ACJP) training on social biography videos
Lack of early representation puts defendants at a disadvantage that is often difficult and costly to correct later. Providing immediate representation to arrestees benefits not only individuals, but counties and communities as well. Read more.
- Program: First Defense Legal Aid
- Report: Bexar County Public Defender's Office, Central Magistrate Mental Health PR Bond: Year 2 Report (2017) (Year 1 report)
- Report: Marc Levin for Texas Public Policy Foundation, Bringing Balance to Pretrial Proceedings: Solutions for Early Representation of Indigent Defendants (2015)
- Blog: Andrew Davies et al. for London School of Economics USCentre Blog, Guaranteeing Representation at First Court Appearances May Be Better for Defendants, and Cheaper for Local Governments (2018)
- Report: Michigan Indigent Defense Commission, Counsel at First Appearance and Other Critical Stages: A Guide to Implementation of the Minimum Standards for Delivery Systems (2017)
- Study: California Policy Lab, The Impact of Early Representation: An Analysis of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Pre-trial Release Unit (2018)
Restorative justice focuses on repairing injuries caused by criminal offenses and addressing the underlying reasons for defendants’ actions. By creating a platform for defendants and victims of crime to speak to each other and determine tangible ways to repair harm done, restorative-justice-based programs increase victim satisfaction, encourage accountability, and reduce recidivism, creating safer communities. Read more.
- Tools: Colorado restorative justice resources, including standards of training and practice
- Tools: Prison Fellowship International's Centre for Justice and Reconciliation, About Restorative Justice
- Article: ABA, The Judges' Journal, The Indigenous Practice That Is Transforming the Adversarial Process (2016)
- Video: Profiles of restorative justice programs from the University of Texas' Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue
- Article: Lara Bazelon for the American Prospect, Redemption for Offenders and Victims (2018)
- Book: Lara Bazelon, Rectify: The Power of Restorative Justice After Wrongful Conviction (2018)
Comprehensive defense looks beyond a criminal case to the root causes of criminal behavior. Too often, mental illness, substance abuse, or poverty drive recidivism. A comprehensive defense team, led by an attorney, brings together specialists like caseworkers and civil legal aid attorneys to identify and address these underlying issues. With the support of team members’ investigation and case planning, defense attorneys can focus on their area of expertise: legal advocacy. Read more.
- Study: Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy Alternative Sentencing Worker Program Evaluation (2017)
- Article: Sarah Stillman for the New Yorker, America’s Other Family-Separation Crisis (2018)
- Program: Still She Rises
- Article: Robin Steinberg for NYU Review of Law and Social Change, Beyond Lawyering: How Holistic Representation Makes for Good Policy, Better Lawyers, and More Satisfied Clients (2006)
- Report: Brennan Center for Justice, Community-Oriented Defense: Start Now (2012)
Online Dispute Resolution
In one year, eBay resolved over 60 million civil disputes through an online dispute resolution (ODR) platform. Criminal courts are now adopting similar technology. As Colin Rule, founder of online dispute resolution software Modria, explained, “There will always be cases that require the attention of skilled individuals. But we know we have a crisis of access to justice. Technology may be a way we help solve that problem.” Read more.
Traditional law school training fails to equip attorneys with the skills needed to provide effective representation. Most new lawyers start their own practice, learning through trial and error. This approach doesn’t guarantee attorneys learn how to provide competent representation. Mentoring programs can help. Read more.
- Report: Marea Beeman et al. for the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and TIDC, Indigent Defense
Attorney Mentoring in Texas: A Guide to Establishing a Mentorship Program (2015)
- Tool: Overview of Harris County Public Defender's Office Future Appointed Counsel Training Program (2014)
- Video: Gideon's Promise, Meet Gideon's Promise, the Organization behind Gideon's Army (2014)
Excessive caseloads prevent even the most highly qualified lawyers from delivering effective legal representation. Attorneys saddled with too many cases must jettison core legal tasks—client communication, investigation, legal research—in violation of constitutional and ethical duties. In its evaluation of the Harris County Public Defender, the Council of State Governments found that “the key to sustaining quality defense work is to ensure that caseloads remain manageable.” Workload standards do just that. Read more.
- Study: Dottie Carmichael et al. for the Public Policy Research Institute and TIDC, Guidelines for Indigent Defense Caseloads (2014) (2016 Juvenile Addendum) (2016 Appellate Addendum)
- Study: ABA, The Missouri Project, workload study and national blueprint (2014)
- Studies: ABA workload studies from Rhode Island, Colorado, and Louisiana (2017)
- Study: Dr. Tony Fabelo et al. for the Council of State Governments Justice Center, Improving Indigent Defense: Evaluation of the Harris County Public Defender
Integrated Data Systems
Errors and delays in criminal justice information sharing can cause cases to drag on and costs to spiral. When agencies go paperless, they can improve the accuracy of their information and the speed with which they collect and transmit it. When multiple agencies share this information electronically using integrated systems, these benefits multiply. Read more.
- Product: TechShare.IndigentDefense
- Product: defenderData
- Report: Wisconsin Smart Defense Reporting, Analysis, and Mining Project (RAMP) Final Report (2017)
- Tools: National Legal Aid & Defender Association toolkits for building public defense data capacity