This profile was prepared when Luciana Zaffalon was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
The rights of the accused to a public defender and fair treatment under the law are widely abridged throughout Brazil by a sensationalized news media, a poorly equipped public defense structure, and a host of policies that discriminate against the poor. Recognizing that combating the many pressing rights violations currently found within Brazil’s criminal justice system requires more than pro bono work on a case-by-case basis, Luciana complements legal reform with a combination of media training and public opinion campaigns to foster a stronger culture of tolerance across Brazil. Since assuming the directorship of the Instituto de Defesa do Direito de Defesa (IDDD— Institute for the Defense of the Right to a Defense) in 2004, Luciana has transformed what was once merely a network of pro bono lawyers into Brazil’s first concerted effort to promote the rights of the accused. Her approach seeks to address the many sources of injustice currently plaguing Brazil’s criminal justice system. Most public defenders in Brazil are young lawyers in training, who regard their work merely as a stepping stone to more highly acclaimed case work. In response to this flawed system, Luciana works with 180 of Brazil’s most accomplished criminal lawyers; taking on clients who could not otherwise afford to pay. Using this network of well-regarded defense lawyers, Luciana then identifies particular high-impact cases, the outcomes of which would have particularly far-reaching implications in terms of changes in jurisprudence and similar legislative reform. Finally, she is strengthening dialogue between the media and civil society in order to combat the widespread sensationalism and presumption of guilt typically applied toward criminal cases. To this end, she is currently creating a handbook for journalists on how to cover criminal cases, illustrating the correct terms to use, the proper framework for presenting cases, and the consequences of certain forms of sensationalized coverage. Luciana has achieved numerous changes in federal policy, including major victories in issues related to the rights of women and immigrants in the criminal justice system. Moreover, she has positioned the right to defense among the core issues of Brazil’s political agenda, and continues to reform the way the public views criminal proceedings and the people involved in them.