Our Constitution guarantees that individuals charged with criminal offenses have the right to a lawyer to represent them, even if they cannot afford to pay one. The Federal Community Defender Office (FCDO) was established by the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as the federal defender office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act of 1964 (CJA), 18 US.C. 3006A, to provide representation to persons accused of crimes against the United States and are unable to afford private counsel. We are committed to providing legal services to our clients with zealousness, excellence, and integrity. We believe that fighting for justice means not only advocating aggressively to protect our clients’ legal and constitutional rights, but also respecting and promoting their individual dignity and humanity. The FCDO also provides support and training for our district’s CJA Panel, a group of qualified private attorneys approved by the district court to receive appointments in federal criminal cases.
The Eastern District of Pennsylvania encompasses nine counties (Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia) and an estimated population approaching 6 million people. Our federal district has courthouses in Philadelphia, Allentown, Reading and Easton.
Over the years, our office has grown from a few lawyers and supporting staff members to an Office of diverse practice groups and specialties. Our Trial Unit specializes in handling cases at the trial level. We represent people charged with a federal crime from the day of arrest through the resolution of the case by trial, discharge, or plea and in the event of sentencing. In limited circumstances, we are appointed to represent someone before charges are brought. Our Trial Unit has experience handling cases of every level of severity and complexity. It includes a specialized group of lawyers who represent persons charged with homicides that carry a potential sentence of death. We represent the majority of people charged with federal crimes in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. If a person charged with a crime is eligible for appointment of counsel and we are unable to represent that person, the district court will appoint a private attorney from our district’s Criminal Justice Act Panel.
Should an appeal be necessary for a Trial Unit client, our Appeals Unit lawyers bring years of experience to their appellate litigation and advocacy. Our Appeals Unit represents our clients on appeals before the Third Circuit and the United States Supreme Court.
Our Non-Capital Habeas Unit represents both petitioners who allege that their federal convictions are unlawful because of a violation of federal law or the Constitution and those who challenge their state convictions as improper because of a federal constitutional violation.
The FCDO’s Capital Habeas Unit (CHU) advocates for death-sentenced prisoners. Our CHU – the largest unit of its kind in the nation – represents both federal and state prisoners in habeas corpus and other post-conviction proceedings and in executive clemency proceedings.