One of the most significant pieces of legislation concerning the federal criminal justice system, the Criminal Justice Act (“CJA”), 18 U.S.C. § 3006A, secures the Sixth Amendment right to counsel for federal criminal defendants. Enacted in 1964, the CJA provides a system for appointing and compensating lawyers to represent defendants financially unable to retain counsel; as well as providing for payment of experts, investigators, or other needed defense services in federal criminal proceedings. Learn more about the CJA and the current program here.
Appointed by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. in 2015 to conduct a comprehensive and impartial review of the CJA program, the CJA Review Committee was chaired by Judge Kathleen Cardone (W.D. Tex.). Following two and a half years of study, including nearly 100 hours of testimony from 229 witnesses at seven public hearings, the final report was delivered to Director James C. Duff, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on November 2, 2017.
The Final Verdict
The Committee unanimously recommends that Congress create an independent Federal Defender Commission within the judicial branch of government, but outside the oversight of the Judicial Conference. The Commission would have sole authority to set policy and practices related to the provisions of federal defense, a system that nearly 250,000 people each year depend upon for effective representation in federal court.
While Congress weighs the merits of this recommendation and determines how best to proceed, the judiciary can and should take important steps to give defenders more authority and autonomy. The interim recommendations, linked below, can be found at the end of the executive summary and on page xxxvi of the full report. A crosswalk of the interim recommendations and sections of the full report can be found below and under the Report Materials tab at the top of this page.