In the interest of guaranteeing a person’s Sixth Amendment right to legal representation, a public defender works with low-income defendants to ensure that they receive the best possible legal representation in their criminal cases. The attorney will represent clients in felony and misdemeanor cases, so a law degree is required, with an academic focus in criminal law preferred. The attorney must be licensed and in good standing with the state bar association. A public defender will represent delinquent youth, indigent adults, and clients with mental health or disability issues who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. The attorney will meet with the clients and interview any necessary parties to the case, will draft legal documents as required for the case, and will advise clients on legal matters pertaining to the charges against them. Most of the time, the public defender will be researching legal matters using law libraries and computer databases. That research is used to develop strategies to help clients present the best possible defense in their trials. A public defender is appointed by the court to defendants in need, so the attorney does not select the client and must be able to work with different kinds of people. The attorney must be familiar with local substance abuse problems, as many defendants have drug problems and the attorney should advocate for treatment in lieu of prison for nonviolent drug-related charges. A good public defender will have bargaining skills, as most cases are settled outside of court through plea bargains with the prosecution.
Public Defender Tasks
- Draft legal documents and advise clients on legal matters.
- Conduct research using law libraries or computer databases and develop strategic plans.
- Represent clients in cases involving felony or misdemeanor charges, delinquent youth, mental health or disability issues, and abuse or neglect.