District of Columbia

All data is current as of 2013, unless otherwise noted.
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How the right to counsel is administered and structured

State commission: yes – limited authority
Branch of government: judicial

The right to counsel system in the District of Columbia looks and operates like many federal defender systems that provide Sixth Amendment representation in federal criminal courts across the country.

The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS) is a non-profit corporation established by federal statute and directed by an independent 11-member board. The board is considered to have limited authority because it does not oversee conflict services, nor does it oversee the entirety of right to counsel services in the District.

Separately, the judges in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia oversee the appointment and compensation of CJA Panel attorneys for all cases not handled by PDS. As a result, all private attorneys on the CJA Panel are directly responsible to the judiciary, rather than operating under the auspices of an independent board.

How the right to counsel is funded

Percentage of state funding: 0%
Percentage of local funding: 0%
Percentage of alternative funding: 100% federal funding

Funding for the delivery of right to counsel services in the District of Columbia is provided entirely by federal Congressional appropriation (as opposed to being funded by the D.C. Council).

The methods used to provide public counsel

The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS) is the primary service provider in the most serious adult criminal matters and juvenile delinquency cases. PDS has established rigid limits on the number of cases its attorneys can handle each year.

For all overflow cases and cases of conflict that PDS cannot handle, as well as for all lesser felonies and misdemeanor cases, direct services are provided by a panel of private attorneys from the local criminal defense bar. Called the “CJA Panel,” after the Criminal Justice Act of 1964, attorneys are qualified for court appointed cases and then paid an hourly rate by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts for any cases assigned to them by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.


Legal authority

District of Columbia Code, §§ 2-1601 through 2-1608 (Public Defender Service), and §§ 11-2601 through 11-2609 (representation of indigents in criminal cases)

Source of data: original research conducted by Sixth Amendment Center staff.