Public Defender

By Daisy Rogozinsky
July 24, 2022

In some criminal cases, the defendant will be represented by a public defender instead of a private attorney. In this article, we’ll define the term “public defender,” explain the two different approaches to public defense, and explore whether or not defendants are allowed to choose their public defender. 

Key Takeaways

  • A public defender is a lawyer assigned to represent indigent defendants
  • An indigent defendant is one who cannot pay for their own legal counsel
  • Public defenders are paid for by the government 
  • According to the Sixth Amendment, the state can’t legally prosecute indigent defendants unless it provides them with an attorney 
  • There are two approaches to public defense: vertical representation and horizontal representation
  • Indigent defendants are not allowed to choose their own public defender
  • Indigent defendants can request to have their court-appointed public defender replaced with a different one

What Is a Public Defender?

A public defender is a type of lawyer who represents criminal defendants who are indigent, or unable to afford to pay for their own legal counsel. Public defenders are appointed by the court to represent defendants and are paid by the federal, state, or county government. They are on staff as attorneys for the legislatively created public defender service. 

The origin of the public defender service is the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, which says that the state can’t legally prosecute indigent defendants unless it provides them with an attorney. 

Public defender offices usually consist of a chief public defender managing assistant public defenders. Public defenders are licensed, familiar with their local court system, and often quite experienced as they typically have a heavy caseload.

Approaches to Public Defense

There are two approaches to public defense:

  • Vertical representation - The same public defender works on a defendant’s case from beginning to end
  • Horizontal representation - Specialized public defenders handle different parts of the same defendant’s case, such that a single defendant is represented by multiple public defenders as the case progresses

Choosing Public Defenders

Indigent defendants are not allowed to choose their own public defenders. A judge typically appoints the public defense office that will represent a defendant. The actual public defender (or public defenders in the case of horizontal representation) that will represent the defendant is then chosen within the public defense office. 

However, a defendant can ask the court to replace their court-appointed public defender with a different one. That being said, they are not guaranteed to have this request granted. If the public defender agrees to a substitution themselves, it is more likely that the defendant will be allowed a switch.

Featured Criminal Defense Lawyers

Law Offices of Scott D. Hughes

Google rating
15 years in practice
Criminal Defense, Immigration Law, Personal Injury
View Profile

Law Offices of Jaime A. Aird, P.A.

Google rating
7 years in practice
Asylum, Criminal Defense, Immigration Law, Personal Injury, Student Visas
View Profile

The Meza Law Firm, PLLC

Google rating
10 years in practice
Citizenship, Criminal Defense, Immigration Law
View Profile

Derden Law

Google rating
17 years in practice
Citizenship, Deportation Defense, Family Visas
View Profile

Levesque Law PLLC

Google rating
15 years in practice
Citizenship, Family Visas
View Profile

Manzoor Law Firm, Inc

Google rating
8 years in practice
Asylum, Citizenship, Family Visas, Green Cards
View Profile

Related Posts

Criminal Civil Rights Violation
Daisy RogozinskyJuly 13, 2022
Restraining Order
Lia Kopin-GreenMay 15, 2022
Search and Seizure
Daisy RogozinskyJuly 24, 2022
Speedy Trial
Daisy RogozinskyJuly 24, 2022
Attorney At Law is changing how clients connect with lawyers. By providing an innovative platform to lawyers who want to expand their practice’s reach, AAL is bringing law practices into the future.
6142 Innovation Way
Carlsbad, California 92009
© 2023 Attorney at Law | All rights reserved
Some of the content of this website may be considered attorney advertising under the rules of certain jurisdictions. The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship.
crossmenuchevron-upchevron-down linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram