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DCEx Closes the Semester with a Look Inside the DC Public Defender Service

Posted on Friday 5/5/2017
The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia

The Spring 2017 DC Externship Program had the opportunity to close their semester with a seminar at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS) hosted by the director, Avis E. Buchanan.

For the last ten years, Buchanan has been the director of PDS, which provides defense, and related legal and non-legal services, to indigent adults and children charged with crimes and delinquent acts in the local DC courts. PDS is widely regarded as one of the best public defender offices in the country, local or federal; Avis is the longest-serving director in PDS history.

As director of PDS, Buchanan oversees an extensive range of cutting-edge legal and non-legal services aimed at providing the best possible representation to criminal defendants. PDS has a staff of 220, roughly half of whom are lawyers. PDS has seven legal units and, uncommonly, pulls from those to create practice groups that focus, for example, on forensics and mental health, two chief aspects of trial and sentence-mitigation work. Specialists not only assist in individual cases but push for reforms of local and federal policies and legislation. They also run training programs for lawyers, social workers, investigators, and others working on the front lines of DC justice.

The participants had the opportunity to learn why PDS is the best public defender service in the country and what they are doing to maintain that title. Buchanan kept the participants engaged by explaining her personal journey to becoming the director of PDS as well as speaking about what it is like to be an attorney for PDS Buchanan also took questions regarding how their public defender service differs from many of those around the country and why their procedures are so successful. Finally, Buchanan discussed the possible changes that could arise for PDS because of the new administration.