Being treated fairly by the criminal justice system should not be a privilege of the rich. In 1963, the United States Supreme Court in Gideon versus Wainwright recognized that the right of an indigent defendant in a criminal trial to have the assistance of counsel is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial.
Minnesota Public Defenders
Minnesota has responded to this constitutional mandate in a practical and cost effective manner. Coordinated and funded by the Board of Public Defense, Minnesota Public Defenders represent indigent accused people in each of Minnesota's 87 counties. The state is divided into 10 judicial districts; each of these districts has at least 1 full-time Public Defender Office. Each district's activities are supervised by a Chief Public Defender who is appointed by the Board. Additionally, state and federal appears are brought by the lawyers in our appellate office.
Minnesotans can take pride in their system of public defense and the dedicated lawyers and staff people who work in Minnesota Public Defender Offices. Many criminal justice systems in other areas of the country provide public defense services on an ad hoc basis. In such systems, judges select members of the private bar to represent indigent defendants as the need arises. In their worst incarnation, such systems have been described as "swamp justice" where the accused's lawyer is the lowest bidder or the least assertive lawyer in town.
For the constitutional phrase equal protection of the laws to have its full meaning, indigent defense services must be provided as it is in Minnesota, where dedicated and professional public defenders protect society's most powerless people and thereby guard everyone's constitutional rights.