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Indigent Defense 50-State Stories Project

In support of indigent defense reform efforts and in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Gideon v. Wainwright decision in 2013, we encourage your participation in the National Indigent Defense Collaborative 50-State Stories Project designed to illustrate failures of the various indigent defense systems across the country -- and hope for the future.  

 What we are looking for: We seek stories of people who were served poorly by the indigent defense system in their state or county. Stories could detail the spectacular, unusual problems — a public defender did not meet with her client before entering a plea on his behalf, or the appointed counsel collaborated with the prosecutor to the detriment of the client — or the more mundane — the county contract defense counsel only had time to meet the client once, or was not provided the resources to do any investigation before the trial.   Cases of wrongful conviction or excessive sentences resulting from the failure of an indigent defense system are especially welcome.

 Ideally, the story should address the systemic problems in the larger context of your state’s indigent defense system, such as over-burdened and/or under-resourced lawyers, rather than rare anomalies.   One of our goals in this project is to highlight positive change that is occurring around the country.

 What we are asking you to do: Think about potential indigent defense reform issues; review cases you are familiar with or have heard about in your jurisdiction, and review letters your office may have received from criminal defendants or state prisoners; and reach out to colleagues.  We hope to focus on the defendants themselves although attorneys should certainly share their related experiences.  When you identify a potential story, please send Alisa Roth,, the name, contact information, and the briefest outline of the situation. We do not expect you to do extensive interviews. Please let your contact(s) know that the ACLU will be getting in touch with her/him. (If you have supporting documents—news articles, legal papers, etc.—we would love those, too, but you are not required to provide them.) 

 What we will do with the information: The ACLU will create an online storybank designed to illustrate problems with indigent defense systems across the country. These multi-media stories will be available to allies for use in indigent defense reform advocacy work, for the public via the web, and they will also be available for the media, including national, local, social and alternative media. 

 As our goal is to collect at least one story from each state and to have at least a few stories available for advocacy by the start of the 2013 anniversary year in January, please send responses to Alisa Roth at by January 4, 2013.



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