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“There can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has.” Justice Hugo Black

In 1963 the U.S Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainright was decided, which gave indigent people charged with crimes the right to have an attorney represent them. In response to that decision, the Florida Legislature created the Office of the Public Defender for each of the twenty Judicial Circuits in Florida. Over 60 years later, is it immensely important that citizens have legal representation. This is a Constitutional office whose job is to ensure that everyone is treated equally under the law no matter race, gender or economic status. Bryan Stevenson said “I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”

The Office of the Public Defender represents adults and juveniles charged with a crime or being held under the Baker Act or Sexually Violent Predator Act. The Public Defender is elected by the citizens in the county and is the head of the office.  The office employs attorneys, investigators, social workers, and support staff.  The attorneys, or Assistant Public Defenders, are licensed by The Florida Bar and handle the cases on behalf of the clients.

The office is funded by both the State of Florida and by fees collected by the Clerk of Courts from clients.  Although the office is mostly funded by the State, the attorneys are responsible for independent representation of their clients. To qualify for a Public Defender, a client must be deemed indigent by the Clerk of Courts. A person is deemed to be indigent “if the applicant’s income is equal to or below 200 percent of the then-current federal poverty guidelines . . . or if the person is receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families-Cash Assistance, poverty-related veterans’ benefits, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).” F.S. 27.52

The essential role of a Public Defender is to zealously represent their clients and protect their rights under the Constitution. They seek equal justice under the law to ensure clients are given a fair opportunity to be heard in court. All people deserve highly effective representation regardless of their income and financial means.  Justice Hugo Black stated that the right to counsel “is one of the safeguards of the Sixth Amendment deemed necessary to insure fundamental human rights of life and liberty.” Johnson v. Zerbst (1938). 

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