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?

There are 20 elected public defenders who 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 2018-19, public defenders reported that they were appointed to 637,896 cases (including re-opened cases) representing 532,383 clients. During this same time period, the public defenders reported closing 616,028 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
10,415,437
126.00
02-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
6,941,770
86.00
03-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - THIRD JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
3,388,198
32.50
04-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - FOURTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
13,447,042
156.00
05-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - FIFTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
10,859,003
127.50
06-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
18,880,404
241.50
07-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
9,799,607
117.00
08-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - EIGHTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
6,512,336
75.00
09-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - NINTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
17,851,117
220.00
10-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - TENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
9,315,152
116.00
11-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - ELEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
32,330,159
390.00
12-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - TWELFTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
8,258,480
95.50
13-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - THIRTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
18,821,495
217.50
14-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - FOURTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
6,264,621
67.00
15-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
16,073,769
189.00
16-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SIXTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
3,331,978
39.00
17-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - SEVENTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
19,919,510
223.00
18-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - EIGHTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
10,593,757
113.00
19-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - NINETEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
7,626,450
86.00
20-PROGRAM: PUBLIC DEFENDERS - TWENTIETH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
12,919,451
141.00
TOTAL
243,549,736
2,858.50

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?

Nancy Daniels, Interim Executive Director, Florida Public Defenders Association, Inc., 850-488-6850

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