OPPAGA text logo with graphic of FL historic capitol
OPPAGA text logo with graphic of FL historic capitol

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?

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 are these activities funded?

Fiscal Year: 2020-21
Fund Dollars Positions
PUBLIC DEFENDERS
01-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - FIRST JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
10,302,540
126.00
02-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
6,842,018
86.00
03-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - THIRD JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
3,349,836
32.50
04-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - FOURTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
13,289,029
156.00
05-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - FIFTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
10,721,088
127.50
06-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
18,633,234
241.50
07-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
9,668,462
117.00
08-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - EIGHTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
6,423,393
75.00
09-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - NINTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
17,722,259
220.00
10-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - TENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
9,228,703
116.00
11-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - ELEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
31,934,397
390.00
12-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - TWELFTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
8,159,881
95.50
13-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - THIRTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
18,620,409
217.50
14-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - FOURTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
6,196,562
67.00
15-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
15,887,077
189.00
16-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SIXTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
3,288,930
39.00
17-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SEVENTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
19,622,062
223.00
18-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - EIGHTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
10,459,007
113.00
19-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - NINETEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
7,548,771
86.00
20-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - TWENTIETH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
12,812,966
141.00
TOTAL
240,710,624
2,858.50

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 find related OPPAGA reports?

Due Process Services, Report 19-18, December 2019

Where can I get more information?

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 Information
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