The Office of Public Defender was created in 1971 (Chapter 209, Acts of 1971). In criminal and juvenile proceedings within the State, the Office provides indigent persons with counsel, and related necessary services and facilities. The Office assures effective assistance and continuity of counsel to indigent people, including accused persons in custody, and defendants in criminal and juvenile proceedings before Maryland courts. The Office of the Public Defender administers and assures enforcement of these provisions.

The Public Defender provides legal representation for indigent defendants in criminal or juvenile proceedings that require the presence of counsel before a commissioner or judge; in post-conviction proceedings; and in any other proceeding where incarceration may result pursuant to a judicial commitment of individuals to public or private institutions. Appointed by the Board of Trustees, the Public Defender must be an attorney-at-law who has been admitted to practice in Maryland by the Court of Appeals and engaged in the practice of law for a period of five years prior to appointment. The Public Defender, with the approval of the Board of Trustees, appoints the Deputy Public Defender and, for each district of the District Court, appoints one District Public Defender who must possess the same qualifications as the Public Defender. With the advice of the District Public Defender, Assistant Public Defenders may be appointed by the Public Defender (Code 1957, Art. 27A, secs. 1-14).

The Board of Trustees of the Public Defender system consists of three members appointed by the Governor for three-year terms. Two members must be practicing attorneys-at-law.

Within the Office of Public Defender are four divisions: Appellate; Capital Defense; Collateral Review; and Mental Health.


The Appellate Division has statewide responsibility for all appellate litigation involving Public Defender clients and provides research and consultation on legal issues for staff and panel attorneys throughout the twelve Public Defender Districts. The Division also publishes a monthly Digest with summaries of all reported Maryland appellate court and U.S. Supreme Court opinions relating to criminal law, as well as articles on procedure, trial tactics, and changes in rules of procedure and criminal statutes.


The Capital Defense Division provides representation statewide to persons charged with crimes for which they may be subject to the death penalty. The Division also assists public and private attorneys representing these defendants. Division services apply only to representation in or with respect to Maryland courts.


The Collateral Review Division, formerly the Inmate Services Division, offers legal assistance to all indigent inmates who have legal problems concerning their incarceration. The Division provides representation in a wide range of collateral post-trial proceedings, including post-conviction applications, parole revocation, habeas corpus proceedings (including extradition), interstate and intrastate detainers, and requests for credit for time spent in prison prior to trial and sentencing. Informally and without recourse to litigation, the Division also helps resolve inmate complaints and personal problems that arise from imprisonment. Referrals are made to the Prisoners Assistance Project, and the Inmate Grievance Office of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.


At hospitals throughout the State and in related court proceedings, the Mental Health Division furnishes counsel to all persons civilly committed to mental institutions. Criminals in cases involving mental health and similar issues also are represented by the Division. For these, Division staff assist every district and division in the Public Defender system and appear in cases from the district and juvenile courts through the circuit courts to the Court of Appeals.

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July 18, 2000   
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