Public Defender Law and Legal Definition

A public defender is an elected or appointed public official who is an attorney regularly assigned by the courts to defend people accused of crimes who cannot afford a private attorney. A person who is charged with a crime and cannot afford to hire an attorney may ask the court to appoint a public defender at the first appearance before a judge. They may be asked to submit a financial declaration to determine eligibility. The client may consult with the public defender regarding the law and defenses applicable to his/her case. A public defender cannot be discharged as easily as a privately-employed attorney. The court's permission must be sought and the request must show sufficient cause, such as legal malpractice.


  • Interviews persons seeking legal counsel in civil matters, determining eligibility, accepting cases and preparing necessary legal documents, and rejecting cases outside the jurisdiction of the public defender.
  • Represents the defense in preliminary hearings, interviewing clients and possible defense witnesses, advising clients of the appropriate course of action to be taken in their defense, cross-examining prosecution witnesses, and entering motions for dismissal and bail.
  • Represents the defense in the trial of misdemeanor cases.
  • Represents the defense in hearings concerning matters of civil insanity, sexual-psychopathy and narcotics act violations.
  • Confers with law enforcement and investigation personnel, deputy district attorneys, prosecution witnesses, and other interested parties regarding cases.
  • Prepares legal documents such as briefs, complaints and pleadings.
  • Prepares and tries the criminal cases.
  • Relevant legal forms include:
  • Public Defender Case
  • Public Defender Response-Order Concerning Recoupment