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H.R. 1408: EQUAL Defense Act of 2021

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The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Feb 26, 2021.

Ensuring Quality Access to Legal Defense Act of 2021 or the EQUAL Defense Act of 2021

This bill establishes and modifies certain programs that support the delivery of public defense services (i.e., legal services for criminal defendants who cannot afford counsel).

Specifically, the bill directs the Department of Justice (DOJ) to award grants to state and local governments, tribal organizations, and public defender offices for public defense. A grant recipient must use the grant to establish a data collection process, develop workload limits, and satisfy specified compensation requirements (e.g., pay parity between public defenders and prosecutors).

The bill also directs DOJ to award grants to nonprofits and government organizations to train public defenders, court-appointed attorneys, and contract attorneys.

Additionally, a state that receives Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program funds must annually submit to DOJ information related to the legal representation of defendants in criminal cases.

Finally, it reauthorizes through FY2025 the student loan repayment program for prosecutors and public defenders and otherwise revises the program, including by increasing the maximum benefit amount.