Government Program Summaries
Last update 6/27/2019

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Justice Administrative Commission

Public Defenders

What is the purpose of the public defender?

Public defenders provide legal representation for any person who is determined to be indigent and who is

 

under arrest for or charged with a felony;

 

under arrest for or charged with a misdemeanor authorized for prosecution by the state attorney, a violation of the State Uniform Traffic Control Law, criminal contempt, or under certain conditions, a violation of a special law or county or municipal ordinance;

 

alleged to be a delinquent child facing possible imprisonment;

 

sought by petition to be involuntarily placed as a mentally ill person or a developmentally disabled person; or

 

subject to the Jimmy Ryce Involuntary Civil Commitment for Sexually Violent Predator’s Treatment and Care Act.

How are public defenders appointed to defendants?

Judges typically ask defendants during their first appearance before the court if they wish to be represented by an attorney and, if so, whether they intend to hire private counsel.  If a defendant is financially unable to hire an attorney, the judge will make a provisional appointment of a public defender. 

Defendants must pay a $50 fee and submit an application with the county clerk of court, who then determines whether the defendant is eligible for public defender services.  Defendants are eligible for public defender services if their income levels are equal to or below 200% of federal poverty guidelines. 

How many public defenders are there?

Twenty elected public defenders practice in 20 circuit courts and 67 county courts.

How long is a public defender’s term?

Public defenders are elected to four-year terms under the provisions of Article V, Section 18, Constitution of the State of Florida.

How many cases do public defenders work?

In Fiscal Year 2017-18, public defenders reported that they were appointed to 634,463 cases (including re-opened cases) representing 512,832 clients.  During this same time period, the public defenders reported closing 614,735 cases.

Do public defenders represent defendants in appeals cases?

Not every public defender’s office represents clients on appeal.  There are five appellate divisions located in the Second, Seventh, Tenth, Eleventh, and Fifteenth Judicial Circuits.  These divisions are composed of the same circuits that make up the District Court of Appeal for that area.  Case files are transferred to the appropriate public defender appellate division at the conclusion of the sentencing phase of the proceedings.  The only exception to this transfer rule is if the case involves the death penalty.  Post-conviction motions in death penalty cases are handled by the Capital Collateral Regional Counsels.

How is the program funded?

FISCAL YEAR 2019-20
PUBLIC DEFENDERSDOLLARSPOSITIONS
01-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - FIRST JUDICIAL CIRCUIT10,097,335 126.00
02-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT6,645,960 84.00
03-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - THIRD JUDICIAL CIRCUIT3,332,792 31.50
04-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - FOURTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT12,963,909 153.00
05-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - FIFTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT10,492,940 125.50
06-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT18,573,683 230.00
07-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT9,430,673 115.00
08-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - EIGHTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT6,213,139 72.00
09-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - NINTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT17,552,652 220.00
10-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - TENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT8,881,524 114.00
11-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - ELEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT31,622,508 390.00
12-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - TWELFTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT8,014,371 95.50
13-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - THIRTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT18,297,404 218.50
14-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - FOURTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT6,071,320 66.00
15-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT15,626,500 189.00
16-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SIXTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT3,281,670 39.00
17-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SEVENTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT18,996,638 217.00
18-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - EIGHTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT10,616,271 111.00
19-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - NINETEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT7,352,622 83.00
20-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - TWENTIETH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT12,419,869 138.00
TOTAL236,483,780 2,818.00

Source:  www.transparencyflorida.gov

Updates

Minimum Salary Increase.  The 2019 Legislature enacted Chapter 2019-115, Laws of Florida, which includes an increase in the minimum salaries for assistant public defenders to $50,000 annually.

Where can I get more information?

OPPAGA Reports

A Review of Florida Circuit Courts, Report No. 15-13, December 2015.

Other Reports

The Auditor General reports on public defender offices are located on its website.

Websites of Interest

Florida Public Defender Association, Inc.

National Legal Aid & Defender Association

National Association for Public Defense

Find Law, Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963)

Florida State Courts

U. S. Department of Justice

Performance

Performance measures and standards for the department may be found in its Long Range Program Plan.

What are the applicable statutes?

Article V, Section 18, Constitution of the State of Florida, and Ch. 27 Part III, Florida Statutes.

Whom do I contact for help?

Kristina Wiggins, Executive Director, Florida Public Defenders Association, Inc., 850-488-6850

Website

Judicial, Criminal courts, Criminal investigation, Criminal justice, Criminal law, Lawyers, State attorneys


The Florida Legislature

Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability