public defender | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

A public defender is an attorney who is appointed by the court to represent individuals who cannot afford their own legal counsel in criminal cases. Public defenders are employed by the government and provide legal services free of charge to defendants who meet certain income and asset criteria.

The right to legal representation is a fundamental principle of the United States’ justice system, as enshrined in the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution. However, not all individuals have the financial means to hire a private attorney. In such cases, the court will appoint a public defender to ensure that the defendant’s constitutional rights are protected and that they receive a fair trial.

Public defenders are typically assigned to defendants who are facing criminal charges but cannot afford their own attorney. They may also be appointed in other legal proceedings, such as juvenile delinquency cases, mental health proceedings, or involuntary commitment hearings.

Public defenders have a wide range of responsibilities, which may include conducting legal research, preparing and filing motions, negotiating plea deals, representing defendants in court, and advocating for their client’s rights and interests. They may also work with social workers, mental health professionals, and other experts to build a case and provide the best possible defense for their clients.

The workload of public defenders can be significant, and they may have limited resources and staff to handle the volume of cases assigned to them. This can result in high caseloads and limited time to spend with each client, which may impact the quality of legal representation provided.

Despite these challenges, public defenders play a vital role in ensuring that all individuals have access to legal representation and a fair trial, regardless of their financial circumstances. They are an essential component of the criminal justice system and help to ensure that the rights of defendants are protected and that justice is served.

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Last Modified: 03/13/2023


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