Published on: Wednesday, March 20, 2024

On Tuesday, the Defender Services Committee took action in response to a critical issue. Recognizing the absence of representation for individuals accused of crimes in certain federal district courts during Initial Appearance hearings, the Committee issued a memorandum.

This directive was circulated to all federal court and Criminal Justice Act personnel, reaffirming that federal law requires representation by counsel during every Initial Appearance hearing.

"The Criminal Justice Act (CJA), 18 U.S.C. § 3006A, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and Judicial Conference policy require courts to provide access to counsel for individuals accused of crimes at the earliest opportunity," the committee wrote.

"Section 3006A(c) directs that a “person for whom counsel is appointed shall be represented at every stage of the proceedings from his initial appearance … through appeal,” § 3006A(c) (emphasis added), and Criminal Rule 44(a) contains the same instruction, Fed. R. Crim. P. 44(a) (a “defendant who is unable to obtain counsel is entitled to have counsel appointed to represent the defendant at every stage of the proceeding from initial appearance through appeal”)."

"Courts that do not currently ensure that every defendant has active representation by counsel during the initial appearance must comply with the governing statute and rules."

The Defender Services Committee holds several responsibilities, encompassing the establishment of policies and guidelines, allocating resources, and addressing matters concerning the provision of defense services.

If you have any questions related to the appointment and payment of counsel at initial appearances, please contact the AO’s Defender Services Office, Legal and Policy Division at 202-502-3030.