The public defenders are part of “law enforcement” in a very real way.  These lawyers enforce laws related to trial procedure and individual rights, making certain that the rule of law extends into the court house.  Public Defenders are required in cases where there is a threat to a person’s liberty, which is generally limited to criminal cases in which the punishment may be jail time.

The earliest ‘Public Defender’ in fact happens to have been John Adams, one of the founding fathers of the United States.  Adams defended British soldiers charged with murder in the killing of colonists before the revolution, and wrote after this work that it was one of the greatest accomplishments of his professional life.

More recently, in the famous case of Gideon vs Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court extended to the states an obligation long recognized in the Federal Courts, that persons accused of a crime have a right to counsel.  That means that if the government wants to take away your freedom, part of that includes making certain you have an attorney to help you with, as one Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court famously wrote,  “the guiding hand of counsel”.

Even later than that, in 1974, the Louisiana Constitution provided a Bill of Rights and included the right to counsel in defense of criminal charges.  Four years ago, the Louisiana Legislature gave nearly unanimous approval to the biggest change in Criminal Justice since then, when, in 2007 it passed the Louisiana Public Defender Act. 

The current law provides for a system of performance standards, fiscal responsibility, and professionalism in the public defender work throughout the state.  These standards are supported by the Louisiana Public Defender Board , which monitors professional and fiscal compliance by the districts.