Public Defenders By State

An overview of the different public defender systems per U.S. State including resources, news, and contact information.

Public Defender News and Resources By State

The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees that all criminal defendants have the right to be represented by an attorney. Specifically, the Sixth Amendment states that:

“in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

This Sixth Amendment right has been interpreted to mean that any criminal defendant – regardless of ability to pay – is entitled to have a defense attorney for the duration of criminal proceedings. The position of public defender was ultimately developed after multiple Supreme Court decisions to ensure that criminal defendants who could not afford an attorney on their own would have access to counsel, as required by law.

What is a Public Defender?

A public defender is a licensed attorney who is paid by the state but works as a legal representative for criminal defendants. The state supplies funding and resources for the public defender’s office. This money is used to compensate attorneys who decide that they want to dedicate their legal craft to defending people who cannot afford to hire a private criminal defense lawyer. For example, assume someone is charged with murder in Illionios. They might need the assistance of an Illinois criminal defense attorney. If they can’t afford one, the court provides one to them.

When an indigent defendant demonstrates a need for an attorney, the court will appoint a public defender. The public defender’s job is to:

  1. Represent this defendant in all aspects of the criminal case; and
  2. Fight to ensure that the defendant’s rights are protected.

The Sixth Amendment right to counsel is a federal concept. However, states are generally faced with the task of creating and running public defender programs. These programs can vary from state to state.

Public Defender System in Georgia

The Georgia Public Defender Council is an “independent agency within the executive branch of the state government of Georgia,” and works to ensure that indigent defendants in Georgia have unfettered access to legal representation. The Council, which operates in all but six of Georgia’s counties, strives to provide indigent defendants with the same level of representation as clients who can afford to pay high-priced criminal defense attorneys. Criminal defendants who live in Gwinnett, Cobb, Houston, Forsyth, Douglas, or Cherokee counties must contact their county directly to obtain the services of a public defender.

Attorneys who are hired to work for the Georgia Public Defender Council are appointed by the court to represent indigent defendants or juveniles facing certain criminal charges. Defendants facing any criminal charges at any point in their criminal case are entitled to a public defender if they cannot afford to hire a private attorney. This means that indigent defendants can have a public defender represent them in:

Defendants who want the assistance of a public defender must apply by contacting the appropriate county’s public defender office. The defendant must submit financial information reflecting income and expenses to show why they need a public defender. Defendants who exhibit financial constraints will be approved.

When you are charged with a crime in California, you have the right to be represented by an attorney. When you can’t afford a private lawyer, the state can assign a public defender to your case. In California, each county has its own Public Defender Office. Attorneys are employed by individual counties and provide legal services to defendants charged with a crime in that specific county.

When Can I Use a Public Defender in California?

Public Defender Offices in California provide representation for indigent clients facing a wide range of legal issues, including:

If you can’t afford an attorney, you should be able to qualify for representation if you have been charged with “any contempt or offense triable” in court. This includes municipal court, superior court, and the appellate courts.

How Do I Get a Public Defender’s Help in California?

Public defenders are available to help criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. In order to qualify for assistance, you will have to complete a financial disclosure form. The information you provide will help the court or Public Defender’s Office determine if you can afford to hire an attorney on your own. If it is clear that you can’t afford an attorney, the court or Public Defender’s Office will assign an attorney to your case.

Are Public Defenders Free?

Not necessarily. Anytime you use a public defender or another court-appointed attorney you will be required to pay a $50 registration fee. Once your case has been resolved, the Public Defender’s Office will review your financial situation (or your family’s financial situation) to determine if you are able to cover some or all of the legal costs.

You will never be denied the right to have an attorney if you cannot afford to pay the $50 registration fee or cover any legal costs.

Public Defenders and Section 1983 Lawsuits

You have certain fundamental rights that cannot be infringed without cause. When a person acting on behalf of the state violates those rights, you may have the right to file what is known as a Section 1983 lawsuit. Section 1983 of the United States Code provides citizens with the right to sue the government (or people acting with power extended by the government) for violations of their rights. This is important because government actors are typically immune from civil lawsuits for actions carried out on the job.

Using Section 1983, your Orange County personal injury lawyer can file a civil lawsuit against any person acting under color of law who violates your rights. A person acting under color of state law is anyone who is who is acting pursuant to authority extended by law. This could include police officers, state prosecutors, jail wardens, and even school board officials.

What if a public defender violates your fundamental civil rights? Do you have the right to file a Section 1983 claim against your court-appointed attorney? No. While public defenders are people, they are not considered to be acting “under color of state law.” Why? The Supreme Court held that a public defender is simply “performing a lawyer’s traditional function representing criminal defendants.” As a result, the attorney has not been extended any additional rights or powers by the law. They are simply standing in the place of a private attorney.

Public Defender System in Illinois

In Illinois, each county has established its own specific public defender system. The attorneys employed in each of these offices strive to offer quality legal representation to indigent defendants in criminal matters. Defendants in Illinois are entitled to request the assistance of a public defender for cases involving:

Defendants who want a public defender must formally make a request with the court handling their case. The court will ask the defendant to complete an Affidavit of Assets and Liabilities, which will help to paint a picture of that defendant’s financial situation. The court will review this Affidavit and determine if that defendant qualifies to receive a public defender’s assistance. If the defendant’s request is approved, a public defender will be appointed. If the request is denied, the defendant must hire a private Chicago defense attorney or proceed without legal assistance.

The Sixth Amendment right to counsel guarantees that every criminal defendant has access to competent legal representation. When that right is violated, defendants should turn to an experienced defense attorney for help. An attorney can help a defendant who was wrongfully denied legal representation achieve a positive outcome in his or her criminal case.

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Public Defender News and Resources By State