The Defense Clinic
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“INJUSTICE ANYWHERE IS A THREAT TO JUSTICE EVERYWHERE”
— Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
History of the Public Defender
In 1963, Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 83 S.Ct. 792, led to the establishment of the Florida Public Defender System. In Gideon, the court held that “lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries.” The court acknowledged that the inability of the poor to afford representation served as a denial of the fundamental and essential right to a fair trial. Prior to 1963 there was no recognized constitutional right to counsel for those who could not afford it. The Public Defender Office exists to assure that the poor, or indigent, have access to justice and the right to a fair trial.
The public defender epitomizes why so many have entered law school. They seek not fame or fortune. Instead, they seek the higher level of professional satisfaction of representing the people who most need legal representation. Public defenders stand alone, armed only with their wits, training and dedication. Inspired by their clients’ hope, faith and trust, they are the warriors and Valkyries of those desperately in need of a champion. Public defenders, by protecting the downtrodden and the poor, shield against the infringement of our protections, and in reality, protect us all. Hightower v. State, 592 So.2d 689 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1991).