What we do
The services of the Office of Public Defender are not available merely by asking. The Public Defender must be appointed to represent a defendant by the Court. The appointment is made on the basis of a finding by the court that the defendant is indigent based upon a sworn financial affidavit of indigency. Once appointed, the Public Defender may proceed to represent and defend the defendant for which he was appointed. A defendant represented by the Public Defender is actually represented by a staff of attorneys all working together. Although the same attorney may not appear with a defendant at every stage of the proceedings, each attorney is thoroughly familiar with the case he or she is handling.
Why the Office of the Public Defender was created
There was a time, in spite of Constitutional provisions, when there was a double standard in place – one for the rich and another for the poor. In 1963, the Florida Legislature dealt with the problem by creating the Office of the Public Defender. It was the first statewide Public Defender system in the nation.
Who is the Public Defender?
The Public Defender is an elected constitutional officer of the State of Florida who must be a lawyer and be a member of The Florida Bar for at least five years. The responsibility of the office is to provide legal counsel, when appointed by the court, to those threatened with loss of liberty and who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Each of the twenty judicial circuits in Florida is served by an Office of the Public Defender. Lawyers who are members of The Florida Bar are employed as Assistant Public Defenders. The Public Defender and Assistant Public Defenders are ethically bound to the same Code of Professional Responsibility and disciplinary rules as all attorneys. Staff members may also include investigators and legal interns who fully investigate matters for the lawyers including interviewing state’s witnesses and inspection of evidence. Interns are third-year law students and law school graduates who are not yet admitted to the Florida Bar. They research applicable law and, with the defendant’s consent, may represent them in court. As part of their continuing education, investigators and lawyers regularly attend training programs and the Public Defender conducts training sessions for all employees.
The Public Defender does not represent persons in a civil case. Civil representation is available through Brevard County Legal Aid www.brevardcountylegalaid.org or the Seminole County Bar Association’s Legal Aid Services at www.scbalas.com.