Part of the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Smart Suite of criminal justice programs, the Smart Defense Initiative combines the expertise of researchers and practitioners in building evidence-based, data-driven strategies to improve indigent defense delivery systems for maximum, sustained, and measurable impact.

February 2016

In this issue:
  • Smart Defense Initiative Expands. NLADA announces the newest Smart Defense project and additional opportunities for training and technical assistance funded by BJA.
  • This Month's Highlights: Progress and Challenges Across the Sites. Public Policy Research Institute previews the Texas web portal and tests data collection from five counties.  Wisconsin State Public Defender enjoys new management efficiency from increased reporting capacity.  Alameda County Public Defender's Office reports representing over 3,000 clients at arraignment, thanks to Smart Defense grant.  New York City prepares a budget request for a new case management system, plus additional staff, to support its assigned counsel plan.  Contra Costa County Public Defender begins serving individuals facing misdemeanor citations.  Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy develops web-based reporting tool for contract attorneys
  • Upcoming Events. Save the dates for this year's Smart Defense Inter-site Summit, Smart Suite Fellows Academy, and site visits.
  • Advice on Grant Adjustments. How to request additional time and make other modifications to your BJA grant project.

Smart Defense Initiative Expands

On February 6, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), the national training and technical assistance provider for Smart Defense, announced that BJA is expanding the Smart Defense Initiative to fund a portfolio of innovative, evidence-based approaches to strengthening public defense:

  • Partnering with Police and Community in Contra Costa County
  • Modeling Defender-Researcher Collaboration
  • Connecting Defenders to Neighborhood Revitalization Projects
  • Strengthening Private Assigned Counsel
  • Leveraging Federal Resources for Defenders
  • Building Cross-Sector Criminal Justice Coalitions 
 Read the Fact Sheet here.


Reporting the state of indigent defense in 254 Texas counties through a new web portal.

Program Agency:  Texas Indigent Defense Commission  (TIDC)
Research Partner:  Public Policy Research Institute (PPRI) at Texas A&M University.

Status: Preliminary website design completed; five largest Texas counties prepare for test data dump.

Smart Defense Texas has completed a preliminary website design incorporating the "ACT" theme of their project: Access, Competence and Trust.  The home page of the web portal will allow the user to pick an area of interest, such as Access.  Within each area there will be various measures, such as, for Access: Magistration (initial appearance); Eligibility Screening; Attorney Appointment; and Uncounseled Pleas. For each of these measures, users will be able to compare performance indicators across counties and time, and refer to a pplicable legal requirements, professional standards and learning resources that will contextualize the indicators.

Below is a sample page from the website:

TIDC and PRRI have also engaged five of Texas' largest counties to run a test data dump.  TIDC and PPRI have sent the counties detailed instructions for submitting counts for 60 data elements using Excel spreadsheets (t he Smart Defense team plans to ultimately develop auto-download capacity).  This test will permit the project to gauge what data collection is feasible and what is not from both TIDC's and the counties'  perspective, and to incorporate these lessons before rolling out data collection to other counties.


Integrating court data with public defender system data for more robust analytic capacity.

Program Agency:  Wisconsin State Public Defender (SPD) 
Research Partner:  University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (PHI)

Status: Reporting capacity of RAMP growing, improving management and efficiency.
Smart Defense Wisconsin has developed nine out of 21 reports planned for its  Reporting, Analysis, and Mining Project (RAMP), prioritizing those which are necessary for the largest number of managers.  A mong the reports currently being developed is one for private attorneys to track time spent with their clients, plus time spent in-court, out-of-court, and in travel.  The team will also develop reports of case outcomes by county or judge for particular case types.   The RAMP team  has taken to referring to the current project as "RAMP 1.0.," with the hope that the project will continue to grow beyond the period of the grant, adding functionality like tracking client complaints.

SPD staff are seeing early examples of gains to efficiency and cost-effectiveness from RAMP.  In the past, if SPD needed to assign conflict counsel, SPD staff would call around regional offices - sometimes making more than 60 telephone calls - to identify an attorney to take a single appointment.   With RAMP, SPD staff can run a report that lists the names of attorneys in the local area, whether they are qualified to take the case, and their current caseload and case-type breakdown, so that staff can determine, for example, if an existing appointment to a complex case would preclude undertaking representation of a new client.  This new process significantly cuts down on staff time on these tasks while also helping to ensure the quality of counsel.

Alameda County, California 

P iloting public defender representation at arraignment (a client's first appearance before a judicial officer).

Program Agency:  Alameda County Public Defender's Office (ACPDO) 
Research Partner:  Impact Justice

Status: ACPDO reports representing over 3,000 clients since launch of project; ACPDO continues to challenge t0 court CMS

As a result of their Smart Defense grant, ACPDO represented 3,055 clients at arraignment from April through November 2016.  Prior to the grant program, those 3,055 individuals would have appeared at that initial court appearance alone and unrepresented, and many would have remained unnecessarily incarcerated pre-trial, suffering all of the adverse collateral consequences that have been demonstrated to result from even short stays in jail.  Alameda County public defenders help clients to be released from jail on cash bonds or own their own recognizance the same day they are arraigned; researchers at Impact Justice are quantifying the precise impact of this new representation.

The project team continues to contend with problems with the Alameda County courts' new case management system (CMS).   An interface intended to be used by clerks to update case files in real time has proven cumbersome for clerks to keep up with court proceedings.  As a result, judicial actions and court dates are often not appearing in the system in a timely fashion and individuals are being arrested on recalled warrants and held in county jails beyond their sentence.  ACPDO reports an example of one client who was arrested four times on a bad warrant.  On January 31 a hearing was held on motions filed by the ACPDO to compel the Superior Court to take accurate record of court proceedings or stop using the new CMS.  Until these issues are addressed, data needed for the Smart Defense project will remain difficult to obtain.


Smart Defense Inter-site Summit 

May 15-16 in Washington, DC


Smart Suite Fellows Academy, Summer Session

(Tentative dates) July 25-28  in East Lansing, MI 


Site Visits
The training and technical assistance team from NLADA and the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) plan to visit each Smart Defense site this year. To help calendar these visits, we ask all site teams to please consider possible dates for the visit, ideally coinciding with a stakeholder meeting, event, or other milestone for your project.


New York City, NY

Developing performance indicators for assigned counsel and a data system to track their representation.

Program Agency:  New York City Mayor's Office for Criminal Justice (MOCJ) 
Research Partner: Center for Court Innovation (CCI)

Status: Needs assessment of ACP in final review; CMS to be built in-house at DoF as part of larger IT project; additional staff sought for ACP supervisors.
CCI's needs assessment of the New York City Assigned Counsel Plan (ACP) is undergoing final internal review, the last step before it is completed.  The assessment incorporates extensive interviews with ACP attorneys, ACP administrators, judges and other stakeholders, as well as review of relevant state and county laws and appellate rules.  The report's findings will inform project recommendations for strengthening the ACP program.

CCI has also reviewed the current vouchering system. After extended discussions, MOCJ and the city's Department of Finance (DoF) have agreed that the case management system for ACP attorneys would best be built in-house as part of a rebuilding of DoF's vouchering system.  DoF and MOCJ are working on a budget for the project to be presented to the Mayor's Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  Part of the presentation to OMB will include a comparison of off-the-shelf and in-house systems, which the finance team is preparing.  Preliminary plans call for the hiring of a project manager, a business analyst, and two supervising attorneys to expand capacity of the two current ACP supervisors.

The rebuilding of the IT system is anticipated to take two years. The research and coordination undertaken by the Smart Defense team will thus lay the groundwork for a longer-term, locally-driven effort to improve oversight and coordination between the government agencies responsible for the Assigned Counsel Plan.

Contra Costa County, California

Partnering with police to improve misdemeanor citation and release.

Program Agency:  Contra Costa County Office of the Public Defender (OPD) 
Research Partner:    Justice Management Institute (JMI)

Status: Client services provided this month; JMI conducts site visit.
As of late February, an experienced attorney and a part-time legal assistant from OPD are offering advice and consultation to individuals in Richmond, CA who have been cited and released for misdemeanor offenses weeks before their initial court appearance is scheduled. The Contra Costa County Smart Defense project is designed to reduce issuance of failure to appear (FTA) warrants in misdemeanor cases where a citation is issued in lieu of arrest.  Multiple factors drive a significant FTA rate in these cases.  One is the fact that many Contra Costa County residents are mono-lingual Spanish speakers, and the citation is written only in English.  Another factor is confusion around actual court dates.

Under California law, the District Attorney has up to a year from date of incident to file a charge.  Frequently the District Attorney has not yet filed charges by the date listed on the citation and thus no "case" is called in court on that date. Some individuals appear and assume that if no case is on the docket, then there is no case against them, and thus no further need to return to court.  Cited individuals do not receive notice when the charges are actually filed.  They will not have had opportunity to consult with a public defender and learn about the need to keep checking on their case, as counsel is only appointed for cases actually filed.  Therefore, once the case is eventually filed and calendared, some individuals do not know to go to court, and an FTA warrant for their arrest is issued. The Misdemeanor Early Representation Project (MERP) is designed to address these misunderstandings.

OPD is initiating its Smart Defense project in Richmond, CA, which is located in the west part of Contra Costa County, with the benefit of having piloted a similar program in Antioch, CA, in the east part of the county, in 2016.  The Antioch experience provides a basic model and lessons learned for the Richmond model, which will be enhanced with even more resources than the Antioch pilot. 

Among those additional resources is a community location at a Re-Entry Success Center, where OPD already has a presence and which will be a one-stop source for social service referrals for OPD clients.  OPD has provided trainings to Richmond police officers about referring cited individuals to the Re-Entry Center to receive public defender assistance. Police officers will now hand cited individuals a card referring them, in both English and Spanish, to the OPD office at the Re-Entry Center. Officers will also collect contact information to share with the OPD, so staff can reach out and remind cited individuals of court dates.

Research partner JMI conducted a site visit in later January. JMI used the visit as an opportunity to assist in strategic planning for the Smart Defense project, on both the program and research sides of the project.  J
MI is studying the Antioch model and its results as part of strategic planning for the Richmond-based Smart Defense project.  JMI is also examining the Contra Costa County court data system to understand its structure and to determine what information can be pulled from that system and incorporated in to the OPD case management system.


Supervising and supporting contract attorneys handling conflict of interest cases.

Program Agency:    Commonwealth of Kentucky  Department of Public Advocacy (DPA) 
Research Partner:    Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Louisville

Status: Web-based reporting tool developed; survey analysis near completion; second contract attorney training scheduled.

DPA is measuring and monitoring the work of contract counsel who are part of the DPA Smart Defense project by reviewing data from the court system's case management system. A preliminary finding it that, so far, although contract attorneys were given expanded access to DPA's motion bank, they are still filing relatively few motions.  Other data being used to assess the Smart Defense project's effect on the attorneys' work, such as the number of client jail visits, can only be provided by the contract attorneys themselves, and, until recently, was submitted (inconsistently) through email.  DPA's  information technology department has now  developed a web-based case closing form for contract attorney data reporting, which will ease some of the burden on attorneys and promote better compliance with reporting requirements.  The web-based tool automatically populates a spreadsheet from which DPA and the research team can extract data, which they will use to assess and report on the work of contract attorneys - previously a virtual unknown. 

The University of Louisville reports that it is near completion of an analysis of a survey that was administered to contract attorneys last year.  The survey was designed to evaluate attorney satisfaction with the contract attorney program and to identify elements that work well and those that might need improvement.  The results of this survey, and other research that has DPA has conducted, will shape the curriculum for DPA's second annual training event for contract attorneys, scheduled for May 31 and June 1.  These trainings, supported by the Smart Defense grant, are the first opportunities that Kentucky's contract attorneys have had to convene and to learn about resources available generally to defenders, as well as to hone their skills in areas of criminal defense practice specific to them, like securing funding for experts.  The University of Louisville is analyzing the impact of this training on contract attorneys' quality of representation.


Smart Defense grants, like any grant from the U.S, Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, may be subject to adjustment if the grantee requests a Grant Adjustment Notice (GAN).  A GAN is a request to make a programmatic, administrative, or financial change to a grant.  GAN requests must be made through OJP's Grant Management System (GMS).  The grantee will be notified as to whether the GAN is approved or denied.

No Cost Extensions
A request for an extension of time to complete the grant project without requiring additional grant funding must be supported with reasonable justification of the request.  One 12 month extension request is typically granted if justification is shown.  Additional extensions are available at the discretion of the granting agency but are not favored without strong justification.  No cost extension GANs generally must be submitted at least 30 days prior to the end date of the grant but as a matter of practice it is better to submit 60-90 days before the grant period ends in order to allow sufficient processing time or if some additional information is needed by the monitor. In short, the earlier you request, the better. And there is no downside to requesting a full year extension, even if you anticipate finishing in a shorter period of time. 

Budget Adjustments
Certain adjustments to the submitted grant budget may be made without a GAN while some will require a GAN.  The baseline is the amount allocated to each budget category when your grant was approved.  If the cumulative change from reallocating funding from one budget category to another does not exceed 10% of the total grant award, a GAN is not required.  The OJP Financial Guide recommends that even in such a case, the grantee might want to file a GAN in order to keep the grant monitor informed, but we advise grantees to check with their individual grant monitor for their preference.
In the event that the cumulative change(s) to the budget to transfer funds from one budget category to another does exceed 10% of the total grant budget, then a GAN must be submitted.  A GAN is also required if a new category not contained in the original budget is added, for example using grant funds for purposes of travel when no travel category was in the approved budget.  The rule requiring a GAN does not apply where the change in the use of funds is from one budget item to another within the same budget category, unless the budget modification changes the scope of the project.
Modification to the Scope of the Grant Project
As a rule, if the grantee proposes to make a change to the purpose of the project, or alter project activities described in the approved program narrative, then a GAN is required.  Other modifications to the project scope of activities may also require a GAN.  

For further guidance, consult the current OJP Financial Guide and speak with your grant monitor or technical assistance team.

This project was supported by grant number 2015-AJ-BX-K043 awarded to the National Legal Aid and Defender Association by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, United States Department of Justice.  Points of view or opinions contained within this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs or Department of Justice or the National Legal Aid and Defender Association or the National Criminal Justice Association.