A public defender is an attorney who represents people who cannot afford to hire legal representation. Public defenders also represent juveniles, people facing civil commitment, and others who need legal advocacy but cannot afford an attorney. Public defenders are appointed by the court.
Public defenders keep records on their cases, including trial records, investigation reports, and certain financial documents. Some of these records are available to the public.
Public defenders maintain files on every individual they are assigned to represent. This includes case files, investigation reports, indigence determination records, and more. Some of these documents can be requested from a public defender.
Some public defender records, including case files, contain information that falls under attorney-client privilege. These records may not be available to the public. The rules vary by location, but in most places you cannot obtain case files and other records that are privileged according to state law.
If you request a record that contains confidential information, the public defender's office may be willing to provide a redacted copy. You should contact the public defender with as much information as possible. If you receive a redacted document, you can request the reason for the redaction.
Clients of a public defender always have a right to receive copies of their own case files. These are not considered public records requests because the case file is the property of the client. If you would like to request your case file, you should contact your assigned attorney or the local public defender's office directly.
Public defenders also maintain financial records that document payments made by a local government agency to retain the services of a public defender. These financial records are open to the public, and they can be requested from the public defender.
Public defenders also file financial Conflict of Interest statements that can be requested through a public records request. These requests can be made directly to the public defender. In some cases, the public defender's office may provide online request forms.
You can request records from a public defender in several ways. Some public defenders have a records office to handle record requests. Many provide online forms to request records. In other cases, you can contact the public defender directly by email or telephone. The local public defender's website will provide you with contact information.