criminal law; public defense; professional responsibility


The public defender institution has trouble meeting its mission. This is partly because, despite the specific and clear purpose of representing indigent defendants in criminal proceedings, public defender offices rely on various centering principles to meet this objective. The institution falters if it chooses a centering principle that unwittingly complicates its ability to meet the institution’s central mission. For public defender leaders tasked with developing and maintaining an institutional identity for a particular office, neither legal nor professional regulations supply the type of considerations that guarantee that an adopted identity will comply with core institutional responsibilities. This project seeks to identify the role that the legal profession’s governing body should play in filling that void. It articulates three popular centering principles for public defender offices, identifies potential failures in systemic integrity and mission fulfillment that can result from each type of centering principle, and posits how professional rules and more stringent governance by the legal profession could help safeguard against such failures.