Why a Public Defender Might Not Be the Best Choice

History of the Public Defender

The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that anyone accused of a crime has the right to assistance of counsel for their defense. When ratified, the 6th Amendment was not seen as requiring the government to pay for an attorney for an indigent defendant. An accused who could not afford counsel could try to get an attorney to work for free or a judge might persuade a member of the local bar association to take the case. But many times a defendant, no matter his education or literacy, had to face the Prosecutor alone.

Gradually this came to be seen as unfair and courts began to rule that indigent people charged with serious crimes must be appointed an attorney. In 1963 in Gideon v. Wainwright, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the 6th Amendment required the government give counsel to all defendants charged with felony crimes who are unable to afford an attorney. And in 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court extended this protection to all defendants charged with crimes that are punishable by imprisonment.

In response to Gideon v. Wainwright, Florida created the first statewide public defender system. Currently there are 20 elected Public Defenders statewide, one for each Judicial Circuit. Brevard and Seminole counties make up the 18th Judicial Circuit of Florida.

Four Reasons to Reconsider Using a Public Defender
Melbourne Criminal Lawyer Option to Brevard Public Defender

1)  The Public Defender’s Office for the 18th Judicial Circuit currently represents over 70% of all defendants charged in criminal court.  There are only about 60 attorneys in the public defender’s offices covering both Brevard & Seminole representing more than 30,000 defendants a year.  They represent indigent defendants accused of crimes, represent children in delinquency court, and represent people facing civil commitment for mental health reasons or sexual offenses.

2)  Your service by the Public Defender is NOT FREE.   There is an initial fee assessed and you can be charged fees for the work done by your public defender attorney along with any court costs, restitution, probation, or other fees assessed by the Judge in your case.   The law in Florida allows the Public Defender to charge defendants up to $3,500 for their attorney services plus the fees assigned by the Judge.

3) Over 95% of criminal cases locally never get to a trial as they are settled with plea agreements.  Every case should be thoroughly investigated and legal research done to determine the facts and law so you can make an informed decision about your case.  If you enter a plea while represented by a Public Defender it is very difficult to undo that choice. Choosing an attorney who has the time and knowledge to handle this important process is absolutely essential to a person charged with a crime. I, and all the attorneys in our office, have the time to properly research your case,  the knowledge of the court system to know what pleas are appropriate, and the extensive experience to take your case to trial if the plea arrangements are not your choice.

4)  An experienced, qualified, private attorney will provide you personal service and specific attention to your criminal matter.  I am one of only a few local, private attorneys with over 28 years experience qualified under Florida Supreme Court Rules to try Death Penalty Cases(See below for information about Death Penalty qualification rules.) And I have tried serious felony cases including death penalty, serious sex crimes, juvenile as well as misdemeanor and DUI cases.



The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure (Rule 3.112),requires a minimum of five years criminal trial experience, prior experience as lead counsel in complex trials for serious crimes – including murder cases.  Also required are additional capital crime defense education,  a strong familiarity with the use of expert witnesses and evidence such as  psychiatrists, psychologists, medical experts, and forensic experts.  Most important in the qualifications are the attorney must have tried at least two (2) death penalty cases through the process to completion, in a jury trial as lead or co-counsel. Capital defense lawyers are required to  provide “high quality legal services”, and “perform at the level of an attorney skilled in the specialized practice of capital representation, zealously committed to the capital case, who has adequate time and resources for preparation.”  (Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, 3.112)