Published on: Wednesday, March 6, 2024

For 60 years, the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) has ensured that people who cannot afford to retain an attorney in federal criminal cases receive professional legal counsel at no cost.

The CJA of 1964 authorized payment of hourly compensation rates and reimbursement of reasonable out-of-pocket expenses for appointed lawyers. It also authorized payment of expert and investigative services necessary for an adequate defense. In 1970, the CJA was amended to authorize districts to establish Federal Public Defender Organizations (FPDOs) and Community Defender Organizations (CDOs) as additional options for providing defense counsel in those districts (or combinations of adjacent districts).

In commemoration of the passage of the 1964 law, U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson of the Middle District of Alabama gave a keynote address to over 100 federal defenders and CJA panel attorneys at the United States Courthouse in Baltimore on Feb. 8, 2024.

Judge Thompson witnessed the implementation and evolution of the CJA first-hand, with his appointment as a CJA panel attorney in the early 1970s. He reflected on how this important legislation continues to protect a right many take for granted: the right to competent counsel, which is assured to every person charged of a federal crime, regardless of their means.

A recording of the presentation is available here.