Why PDS is a Model Program

For more than 60 years, PDS has led the nation in providing exceptional advocacy and quality legal representation to indigent adults and children. Judges and prosecutors alike, as well as public defender agencies and criminal justice bars across the country, acknowledge and respect the outstanding work of PDS’s attorneys.  PDS is recognized as one of the few defender organizations in the world to meet the standards outlined in the American Bar Association’s Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System.

“PDS was set up as a model public defender organization….We give people a fighting chance, just as rich people have….We are helping people at a very crucial time in their lives.  We are dealing with people facing scornful, judgmental attitudes.  PDS attorneys force the system to see people as human beings – not just criminals, or bodies moving through the system.”
By Avis E. Buchanan during an interview with the Washington Council of Lawyers upon receiving their 2014 Presidents’ Award for Public Service

Key highlights in our proud history as a model institutional defender organization:

  • Launching the first systemic effort in the nation to help public defenders develop rehabilitative services for their clients. The project incorporates the specialized skills of forensic social workers to investigate and write presentencing reports and refer clients to social and health services.
  • Implementing a renowned intensive training program to prepare lawyers for the courtroom and the responsibilities of a public defender.
  • Creating the first public defender program to provide legal services to D.C. prisoners that address criminal law-related problems, institutional administrative matters, and civil matters by referral to organizations. The program later expanded to serve as the PDS liaison to individuals convicted of D.C. Code offenses and held in correctional facilities throughout the country, and to provide information to assist these individuals and monitor their conditions of incarceration.
  • Establishing an office in a prison for juveniles that represents children at institutional disciplinary hearings at the District’s youth detention centers—one of the first public defender programs in a juvenile penal institution. 
  • Creating the successful Community Defender Division to provide information, referrals, and quality legal services for committed youth and adults who are in the post-adjudication stage of a criminal case in the District of Columbia’s justice system.
  • Developing forensic expertise and establishing the PDS Forensic Practice Group, (FPG) a dedicated group of PDS lawyers who learn and train on matters of forensic science in the courtroom.  The FPG was implemented to address the increasing number of cases involving forensic science in the District of Columbia and across the nation, and the need for court-appointed defense attorneys to become skilled in using this science in the courtroom — a daunting challenge given the degree of technical difficulty inherent in scientific matters.
  • Implementing a Duty Day Program, a program to respond to telephone and walk-in requests for assistance by the public and criminal justice practitioners regarding legal matters, to include social services, parole, and mental health matters, thereby involving the staff and expertise of its legal and legal support services divisions.
  • Creating a state-of-the-art case tracking software, Atticus, to provide comprehensive case management functionality, allowing case-related information on each client to be shared across the organization.
  • Securing exonerations and proving the innocence of PDS clients for offenses they did not commit, ultimately triggering a broad, ongoing federal review of convictions based on hair and fiber evidence.