William J. Edwards is a Deputy Public Defender with the Los Angeles County Public Defenders Office and has served in that position since 2001. From 2008 to 2011, he worked in the mental health court, where he represented people with intellectual disabilities and mental illness. Since 1994, Mr. Edwards has specialized in the representation of people with intellectual disabilities/developmental disabilities in the criminal justice system.
Prior to working in Los Angeles, Mr. Edwards worked with the Office of the Public Defender in San Diego and Riverside County, California. From 1999 to 2001, Mr. Edwards worked as a staff attorney for the Office of the Capital Collateral Counsel in Tallahassee, Florida. Mr. Edwards represented inmates under sentence of death in state and federal courts.
On a pro bono basis, Mr. Edwards represented inmates with intellectual disabilities or mental illness, from 1996 to 2001, on death row nationwide, including inmates in Texas, Nebraska, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida. For three years thereafter, Mr. Edwards served as one of the amicus attorneys for Johnny Paul Penry, an inmate with intellectual disabilities on death row in Texas. In Penry v. Johnson ( 532 U.S. 782 (2001), a landmark Supreme Court case, Mr. Edwards and other amicus attorneys argued that the execution of people with intellectual disabilities violates both national and international law.
Mr. Edwards has authored numerous articles on the subject of people with intellectual disabilities in the criminal justice system. One of his publications was cited by the United States Supreme Court in Atkins v. Virginia 536 U.S. 304 (2002). Prior to the United States Supreme Court decision banning the execution of people with intellectual disabilities, he also consulted with and testified before many state governmental legislative bodies regarding problems people with intellectual disabilities face while in the criminal justice system. At the request of Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Mr. Edwards wrote a training manual for attorneys who represent people with intellectual disabilities, which is used across the United States and in other countries such as Australia. From 2002 until 2005, Mr. Edwards served on the Faculty of the National Academy for Equal Justice for People with Developmental Disabilities at Temple University.
From 1997-1999, Mr. Edwards was honored with the Rosemary F. Dybwad International Fellowship, sponsored by the National Association of Retarded Citizens. This fellowship allowed Mr. Edwards to travel throughout Canada to train and educate Legal Aid Attorneys and Public Defenders in the area of intellectual disabilities and fetal alcohol syndrome/fetal alcohol spectrum disorders within the criminal justice system.
On May 11, 2006, Mr. Edwards was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. This is a federal advisory committee established by presidential executive order to advise the President of the United States and the Secretary of the Health and Human Services on issues concerning the lives of citizens with intellectual disabilities. In 2007, Mr. Edwards was an author for a report on people with developmental disabilities who are victims of crime. This report was sent to the White House.
On May 8th, 2008, Mr. Edwards was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve a consecutive two year term on the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. In 2008, Mr. Edwards was one of the authors of a report on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
On July 6th, 2009, Mr. Edwards was appointed to the editorial board of the The Journal of Psychiatry and Law. On November 3rd, 2009, he was appointed as special editor of a special issue on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the Law. Volume one (1) of this special issue was released in June 2011 and volume two (2) was released in September 2011.
Mr. Edwards has also served on a variety of committees, addressing people with intellectual disabilities and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome who get caught up in the criminal justice system in the United States and abroad, including:
- 1996-1998: Criminal Justice Process Committee Chair on the California Criminal Justice Task Force for Persons with Developmental Disabilities
- 1996 to 1999: American Bar Association, Young Lawyers Division, Criminal and Juvenile Justice Committee
- 1997-2000: American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project
- 1999-2002: Counsel for the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section and the Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law
- 2001-2002: Editorial Advisory Board of the American Bar Association, Journal of Mental and Physical Disability Law Reporter
- 2004-2006: California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Children’s Justice Act Task Force.
- 2006-2008: American Bar Association Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law-Chair Criminal Justice Issues
- 1996-Present: Board of Directors of the Association of Retarded Citizens in Riverside
- 2010-Present: National Advisory Board for the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
- Currently serves as a Consulting Editor for the American Association on Mental Retardation, Journal of Mental Retardation and as an editor (journal referee) for the British Journal of Learning Disabilities
Mr. Edwards has been an instructor, lecturer, guest speaker, and panelist for numerous institutions and has lectured both nationally and internationally, including New Zealand, Taiwan, England, Ireland, Greece, Canada, Scotland, and Australia. Mr. Edwards has had at least six people with FASD diagnosed since 2006. He is also working with the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law with proposed Resolution on FASD to be passed in August.