Understanding the Public Defender

Nov 07, 2016

Having trouble understanding how a “Public Defender” (PD) works? It can be a little intimidating and overwhelming. Here are a few basic facts you need to know about the PD. 

  1. Public Defense Defined: Public Defenders (PD) are attorneys licensed to practice law in his/her state. Typically they are part of a voluntary pool of attorneys who have agreed to participate in the criminal court system. Only the judge can appoint a PD on your behalf. You don’t get to pick your PD. They are paid by the state and though they usually have large caseloads they are generally very competent lawyers with good credentials.
  2. Representation Guaranteed: The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees that every citizen has the right to a speedy trial and adequate representation. If an accused individual is not able to pay for representation he/she is assigned a “Public Defender.” There is usually a financial criterion for determining who is eligible.  This will vary between court jurisdictions and from state to state. It would be helpful to inquire of the court of jurisdiction how that process works in your area. A phone call to your county courthouse should be adequate.
  3.  The Job of The Public Defender: The PD will accompany the accused to the first hearing (arraignment) where the accused’s (defendant) charges are read and a plea of guilty or innocence is made. The PD will advise the defendant of his/her rights and on details of a Bond (Conditions of Bail Release). The PD is responsible to process all the documents essential to the case and to be sure the defendant understands the charges against him/her. It is important that the defendant and the family be familiar with these documents. ASK all the questions that come to mind. Keep in mind that the PD represents only the defendant, not the family. The family MAY have difficulty getting information from the PD. This will not be the case with minors or juvenile offenders. It is important that you understand these limitations. It is not uncommon for PDs to utilize paralegal assistants (not lawyers) to do much of their filing and research work. These assistants are very qualified individuals with a good knowledge of the law and can be a good resource for you. Don’t be afraid to call your PD and ask questions.

In the end you can contact your county courthouse to get more information, but hopefully this gives you a brief overview of the Public Defender. 

(Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be legal advice. Legal counsel should be obtained
for full understanding. This is meant to be only a guide.)


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