DSO Mission and Goals

The right to the assistance of counsel for persons of limited financial means is a constitutionally mandated, critical component of our criminal justice system - it is one of the foundations upon which the liberty of all Americans is grounded.  

The mission of DSO is to uphold the right to counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, the Criminal Justice Act (CJA), 18 U.S.C. § 3006A, and other congressional mandates.

By fulfilling its mission, DSO helps to maintain public confidence in the nation's commitment to equal justice under law, and ensures the successful operation of our adversary system of justice.  The four primary goals of the Defender Services program are to:

  1. provide timely appointed counsel services to all eligible persons;
  2. provide appointed counsel services that are consistent with the best practices of the legal profession;
  3. provide cost-effective services; and
  4. protect the independence of the defense function performed by appointed counsel so that the rights of individual defendants are safeguarded and enforced.


Who we support

DSO supports counsel appointed to represent individuals who are unable to afford a lawyer or pay for other critical defense services. Counsel appointed under the CJA are from either a panel of private attorneys designated by the court, or a federal defender organization (FDO). There are two types of FDOs: (1) federal public defender organizations (FPDOs), which consist of federal employees who are part of the judiciary, and (2) community defender organizations (CDOs), which are private, state-chartered, non-profit corporations funded by annual federal grants from the judiciary. An FDO may be established in any district (or combination of adjacent districts) in which at least 200 appointments are made annually. There are currently 82 FDOs with more than 4,000 employees serving 91 of the 94 judicial districts.

The CJA also provides for the appointment of private trial lawyers who serve on a panel maintained by each district or appellate court, and who are appointed by the court to represent financially eligible defendants. In situations where federal defenders are unavailable due to FDO conflicts or workload demands, and in the districts not served by an FDO, panel attorneys are appointed to represent eligible individuals. Nationally, almost 90 percent of the more than 10,000 panel attorneys accepting CJA appointments work in small law firms (six or fewer lawyers), and approximately 60 percent are solo practitioners. The CJA provides that these attorneys shall be reimbursed for their expenses and compensated at statutorily authorized hourly rates for their services.

For more information about DSO and federal defense, please visit www.FD.org