The Public Defender’s Position in the Constitution

The United States Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantees that anyone convicted of a crime has the right to legal representation. The 6th Amendment was not seen as requiring the government to pay for an indigent defendant’s counsel when it was ratified. An accused who cannot afford legal representation may try to find a volunteer attorney or a judge may convince a member of the local bar association to take the case. However, a defendant, regardless of his education or literacy level, was always forced to face the Prosecutor alone, explained more in detail.

When this became increasingly seen as unjust, courts started to rule that indigent persons charged with serious crimes must be assigned an attorney. The United States Supreme Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963 that the 6th Amendment required the government to provide representation to all defendants charged with criminal offences who could not afford an attorney. The United States Supreme Court expanded this defence to include all offenders charged with offences punishable by incarceration in 1972.

Florida established the first statewide public defender system in response to Gideon v. Wainwright. There are currently 20 Public Defenders elected statewide, one for each Judicial Circuit. The 18th Judicial Circuit of Florida is made up of Brevard and Seminole counties.

Just about 1% of Public Defender cases go to trial in front of a jury. We don’t have a jury system; instead, we have a plea bargain system. The Office of the Public Defender should be restructured to reflect this fact. Handling a piece of paper once, making the right decision, and then moving on is a simple management principle. This term would be applied to the Public Defender’s Office. To settle cases faster, more money should be put into them up front. In other areas, these early resolution systems have had a lot of success with criminal cases. Costs are reduced because Public Defenders, State Attorneys, and Judges only treat a case once. Inmates are released or returned to prison, where they become a state burden rather than a local one, lowering jail costs. For clients, the PD’s Office competes directly with private lawyers. More should be done to allow suspects to employ private attorneys rather than rely on the police department. PDs also speak with defendants who, with the assistance of family or friends, may afford private counsel. However, they want to use the Public Defender because it is more convenient and, for all intents and purposes, free. The PD can be more aggressive in ensuring that clients are eligible for services and that they do not have the financial means to employ private counsel.

Thousands of dollars in court costs, fines, and restitution are required of many PD clients. As a result, there’s no excuse why they shouldn’t contribute to their own security costs. I’ll look at systems that enable public defender clients to do community service or pay for their services in other ways. Defendants should also do more research into their own cases. I’ll test the boundaries of what the legislation requires in order to save money for taxpayers. Many defendants will benefit from creative thinking to get them off the dole and into the private sector. The crime rate can also decrease if a free attorney is no longer so readily available.

Most modern law firms employ paralegals to help them succeed in a competitive market. Many of the activities that lawyers perform can be done by paralegals for less than half the price. While the Public Defender lawyers do the legal work, I’ll hire paralegals to do the legwork. Clients and witnesses can be interviewed, legal analysis can be done, pleadings can be written, and files can be organised by paralegals. The PD Office has a high employee turnover rate, and when lawyers retire, paralegals will take their place. A gradual but steady transition would save money and enable lawyers to spend more time in courtrooms resolving cases.

The Public Defender’s Office has a long-standing problem with high staff turnover. Many lawyers come to the Public Defender’s Office to obtain experience and training for a few years. After that, they go into private practise. Losing a large portion of the workforce is costly for the PD’s office, as it is for every company.