What is a Public Defender?

A Public Defender is elected to serve his or her community for a four-year term. Public Defenders are fully licensed attorneys and members of the Florida Bar.  The Public Defender’s Office employs attorneys, also known as Assistant Public Defenders, who represent indigent defendants arrested for a criminal offense.

Are Assistant Public Defenders real attorneys?

Yes.  Assistant Public Defenders must obtain at least an undergraduate Bachelor’s level degree prior to law school. After graduating from an accredited law school, they must pass the Florida Bar Examination and become and stay a member in good standing of the Florida Bar Association.  Many of our attorneys have advance training in a variety of specialty areas, such as being Board Certified in Criminal Law or Juvenile Law.

Who does the Public Defender’s Office represent?

The Public Defender’s Office represents defendants, both adults and juveniles, accused of a crime who cannot afford an attorney. Individuals facing involuntary commitment under the Baker Act and also those ordered to involuntary civil commitment.

What is the difference between a private attorney and an Assistant Public Defender?

Private attorneys and Assistant Public Defenders are both licensed attorneys with the Florida Board of Bar Examiners and have the same minimum educational requirements.  If a defendant is able to financially afford an attorney, he or she has the option of retaining private counsel.  If a defendant is not able to afford private representation, an Assistant Public Defendant may be appointed to his or her case. 

How do I qualify for a Public Defender?

The Public Defender’s Office represents people defined as indigent under Florida Law which is a person who has income that is equal or less than 200% of the current federal poverty guidelines.   In order to qualify, a defendant must complete an Affidavit of Insolvency form.  It must be sworn to and delivered to the Clerk of the Court for final determination. If the defendant is incarcerated, an Affidavit of Insolvency will be provided prior to or around the time of the initial court appearance.  Please note that in misdemeanor and criminal traffic cases the judge does not always appoint the Public Defender to represent you even if you are indigent. If an “order of no imprisonment” is filed in your misdemeanor or criminal traffic case, the judge is not required to appoint the Public Defender’s Office. This means that if you cannot pay for your own lawyer, you will not have an attorney representing you.

Is there a fee for the Public Defender’s Office?

Yes, the application fee is $50.00.  It is due within 10 days of the Public Defender’s Office being appointed. The application fee can be paid through the Clerk of the Court. The Public Defender’s Office cannot accept direct payment.

How do I contact my attorney?

You should call the Public Defender’s Office and schedule an appointment with your assigned attorney. Appointments can be in person, by telephone, or by electronic platform such as zoom.

What happens if I miss court?

If you fail to appear for a court date, the Judge will likely issue a warrant for your arrest.  If you have an emergency and believe you will miss your court hearing, please contact the Public Defender’s Office as soon as possible. 

What happens if I am out of jail on bond and I am arrested on a new charge?

If you get arrested on a new charge, please contact your Assistant Public Defender or have your friends or family members reach out on your behalf. 

Why hasn’t my Public Defender had my case dropped?

The Public Defender’s Office cannot “drop” your case.  Only the Office of the State Attorney or the Court can “drop” or dismiss a case. Even if the victim does not wish to prosecute the case, the Office of the State Attorney may still proceed with prosecution.