Puerto Rico

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At a Glance (as of 2013)

Percentage of territorial funding: 52%
Percentage of local funding: 0%
Percentage of alternative funding: 48% (notary stamp fee on public documents)
State commission: yes – limited authority
Branch of government: executive

Funding & Structure of Indigent Defense Services

Article II Section 11 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico requires that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused enjoy the right of adequate legal assistance. Though 4 L.P.R.A. § 426 establishes Office of the Public Defender, no such entity exists. Rather, the “Sociedad para Asistancia Legal de Puerto Rico” (SALPR) – a private, non-profit organization created in 1955 and akin to Legal Aid Societies in the states – provides primary public defense services. The seven members of the independent SALPR Board of Directors are selected by current board members from candidates nominated by the directors of the Clinical Programs of the three Puerto Rican Law Schools, the director of the Social Workers Association, the president of the Puerto Rico Bar Association, a representative of the Association of Relatives and Friends of Ex-Convicts and Convicts, the director of the pro bono program of the Bar Association, and the president of the College of Certified Public Accountants, as well as the last two former members of the Board of Directors.

SALPR has thirteen local offices, one in each judicial district (Aguadilla, Albonito, Arecibo, Bayamon, Caguas, Carolina, Fajardo, Guayama, Mayaguez, Ponce, San Juan, Utuado, and Humacao), plus two separate defender offices handling juvenile delinquency matters in San Juan and Carolina. Additionally, a central office in Río Piedras houses SALPR’s administration, appellate, post-conviction, training and legislative relations divisions.

The majority of funding for SALPR is provided in the governor’s budget. However, a significant amount of funding comes through an alternative revenue source – the sale of special Legal Aid stamps that are required to be affixed to public deeds (e.g., real estate transactions (mortgage deeds, property sales, etc.) as well as sworn statements and affidavits). The commonwealth’s Treasury Department sells the stamps and forwards the revenue on to SALPR (minus a 5% administrative charge). Additionally, SALPR receives approximately $700K from the Puerto Rico Justice Department to represent clients in the local Drug Courts Program.

SALPR is responsible for indigency determinations. If after finding a client to be indigent SALPR discovers a conflict, the case is turned over to the “Abogados de Oficio” – an assigned counsel program overseen by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court. However, attorney panels are administered locally within each judicial district. And, since the Puerto Rican Code of Ethics establishes an obligation to engage in pro bono representation, the first 30 hours of conflict representation is performed for free each year.  After that there is a modest fee paid or attorneys can opt to receive continuing legal education credits instead.

Statutory Authority

Article II Section 11 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (right to counsel); 4 L.P.R.A. § 896, enacted by Ley Núm. 47 de 4 de junio de 1982 (notary stamp funding on affidavits, fee of $5); and 4 L.P.R.A. § 851(2), enacted by Ley Núm. 101 de 2 de octubre de 2004 (notary stamp on property transactions, fee of $5 per every $50,000 valuation).