“And each shall stand equal” This is what the Broward Public Defender’s Office stands for and strives for every day.
Our motto comes from the very Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The pinnacle case of , decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1963, led to the establishment of the Florida Public Defender System. In Gideon the court recognized that two systems of justice had prevailed for most of our history: one for the rich and another for the poor. Before 1963 there was no recognized constitutional right to an attorney for those who could not afford one.
The Founding Fathers were concerned that criminal laws, while necessary, could be used by government to suppress the rights of citizens. The public defender office exists to guarantee that the poor have the right to a fair trial. The legal word for “poor” is “indigent”. It means simply that you do not have money to hire a lawyer. In Florida, the judge will ask the person charged with a crime a few questions about their ability to pay for a lawyer. This hearing is called the “determination of indigency”. Once the judge determines that the person has insufficient funds, the public defender is officially appointed to represent that individual.
Other States have different systems to ensure the right to counsel guaranteed in Gideon. Almost all of them are taxpayer supported, some are pro bono “for free” systems established by local bar associations.