At a Glance (as of 2013)
Percentage of state funding: 100%
Percentage of local funding: negligible – counties provide office space and information technologies
Percentage of alternative funding: 0%
State commission: none
Branch of government: executive
Structure & Funding of Indigent Defense Services
Public defender offices staffed with full time employees provide primary representation to indigent defendants in each of the state’s 20 judicial circuits (covering 67 counties). Each office is overseen by a popularly elected chief public defender to ensure independence from the judiciary and other government agencies. Chiefs defenders are elected every four years. When a circuit public defender has a conflict – for example when there are multiple co-defendants or in instances of case overload – secondary representation is provided by five regional conflict defender offices covering each of the state’s five appellate jurisdictions, which are likewise staffed by full time employees (although the chief conflict attorney is not popularly elected). Tertiary representation is provided by private attorneys paid on an hourly basis or under contract to the judiciary.
The right to counsel in Florida should be considered state-funded, with some exceptions. Counties, for example, are required to provide office space and informational technology services for the 20 circuit public defenders. In addition, a few counties and municipalities contract with circuit public defenders to provide representation in non-state misdemeanor cases. Counties are also not prohibited from contributing resources to circuits for special projects (for example, creating specialized units for early appointment of counsel or providing attorneys for county-based specialty courts, such as mental health court).
The Florida Public Defender Association (FPDA) is a private, non-profit entity created in the early 1970s to bring a more unified voice to the 20 independent elected public defenders. Its executive director is selected by vote of the elected circuit defenders. FPDA provides training, lobbying and other technical assistance services where cost efficiencies can be had through centralized services among the distinct offices. FPDA also disseminates state funding to each of the circuit defender offices.
It may be tempting to think of the FPDA executive director as analogous to a statewide chief public defender in another state, but that would be incorrect. The FPDA executive director carries out policies as determined by the elected circuit public defenders. And, because FPDA is a non-statutorily required entity, the elected circuit defenders are not required to participate in the Association. The 20 circuit defenders are ultimately solely responsible to the constituencies that elected them.
Beyond the elected public defender system to provide for trial level services, Florida maintains three Capital Collateral Resource Offices, one office each serving the northern, central, and southern regions of the state. Lastly, the state maintains five appellate offices, one in each appellate district, to handle direct appeals arising out of the 20 trial circuits.
Source of data: original research conducted by Sixth Amendment Center staff.