When we hear the phrase “public defender,” we usually think of an attorney who practices indigent defense, representing persons unable to afford counsel. In North Carolina, we have a mixed system of defense delivery systems, including privately assigned counsel, contractors, law school clinics, and state funded Public Defender Offices. Public Defender offices are created by legislative act. Currently, there are 19 offices covering 38 counties:
These offices, headed by a locally-appointed Chief Public Defender, house attorneys, investigators and support staff charged with representing clients across a number of different courtrooms, including:
Criminal district court
Criminal superior court
Parents in abuse/neglect/dependency court
Civil child support
Not every office provides representation in every courtroom. Currently, nearly all public defender offices provide some level of representation in juvenile delinquency court. However, this was not always the case. In 2005, most offices did not provide representation in juvenile delinquency court. Over the past almost two decades, more public defenders have placed assistants in these courtrooms. In some public defender districts there is one assistant, in others many assistants take cases. Some offices have units that focus on juvenile defense. In fact, several assistant public defenders who practice in delinquency court have been Board Certified in Juvenile Delinquency – Criminal Law by the NC State Board of Legal Specialization.
This week is the Annual Public Defenders Conference. Please take a moment to thank all who work in these offices, but especially the Assistant Public Defenders fighting for youth in juvenile delinquency court.