507.01 Federal Indigent Defense in Practice

The Sixth Amendment guarantees “the right of the accused to require the prosecution’s case to survive the crucible of meaningful adversarial testing.”  United States v. Cronic (1984).  Federal defenders, with the more than 12,000 private ‘panel attorneys’ appointed under the Criminal Justice Act, represent the vast majority of individuals who are prosecuted in federal court. 

Representing indigent defendants as appointed counsel involves handling some of the most difficult cases in federal court. Being a skillful advocate in the role of a true underdog facing the power and limitless resources of the United States of America demands an approach to law practice that is relentless, a commitment to thinking outside the box, extensive knowledge of complex federal criminal laws and procedure, sharp research skills, and deep empathy for individuals who would not have a voice in the system without their counsel. 

This skills-based simulation course focuses on writing as an advocate for the accused and developing foundational practical skills and substantive legal knowledge needed to prepare a strong defense, with specific attention to direct criminal appeals from guilty pleas.  Substantive areas of focus will include challenging the validity of a guilty plea, overcoming waivers and unpreserved errors, common Fourth Amendment concerns arising from police searches and seizures, the government’s bread and butter charges in indigent cases: guns and drugs, and the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. The course will also necessarily consider the intersection of race, poverty, and systemic discrimination in our system of justice.

Fall 2021

Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor
Course Credits
Simulated Writing, Litigation
Research and/or analytical paper(s), 5-10 pages
Group project(s)
Practical exercises
Class participation
Sarah Powell
Sakai site: https://sakai.duke.edu/portal/site/LAW.507.01.F21
Email list: LAW.507.01.F21@sakai.duke.edu
Degree Requirements
Course Requirements - JD
Course Requirements - Public Interest
Course Areas of Practice