San Francisco, CA — The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office has been awarded a $395,321 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to create the first locally and nationally applicable checklist system to guide attorneys though critical moments in cases, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
The checklist system is designed to help public defenders across the country ensure competent representation and avoid errors. The grant is among $6.7 million in funding awarded to state and local criminal and civil legal services that serve the poor as part of the Justice Department’s efforts to improve indigent defense.
“Everyone accused of a serious crime has the right to legal representation – even if she or he cannot afford it,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “In recent years, the Department of Justice has made a commitment to improving the delivery, quality and availability of legal services for everyone in our country, including the very poor.”
While law enforcement agencies regularly receive large federal grants, it is unusual for those who defend the accused to receive such funding, Adachi said. Across the country, underfunded public defender offices struggle to provide adequate training to their attorneys, who work under crushing caseloads. A nationally applicable checklist program is a cost-effective way to safeguard against mistakes, Adachi said.
The grant was one of two awarded nationally as part of the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Encouraging Innovation awards.
“On the 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the case that ensured the right to counsel, I am honored to receive the Encouraging Innovation grant,” Adachi said. “The checklist system will ensure that public defenders across the country provide the highest quality representation to their clients.”
The pilot checklist system, which guides public defenders through client interviews, investigations, court procedures, motions, immigration issues, trials and appeals, will be employed in both the San Francisco and Alameda County public defender offices.
Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods said the practice will help his office advocate for its clients and improve the delivery of services.
“This simple innovation is very exciting and we are looking forward to using it in our office and promoting its use in other public defender offices,” Woods said. “It is really going to help us as we help our clients navigate an increasingly complex legal system.”
The San Francisco Public Defender is working with the Center on Court Innovation to research and create the local and national checklist system. The system will be adaptable not only to other public defender offices, but to bar associations overseeing private court-appointed attorneys.
“The Center for Court Innovation is proud to partner with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office on this project in two ways: first, as its research partner to test the impact that the use of checklists has on defenders’ ability to better represent their clients and, second, to create tools that share the checklist development processes originated in San Francisco with the rest of the country,” said Julius Lang, director of technical assistance at the Center for Court Innovation.