University of Miami Law Review


In Polk County v. Dodson, the United States Supreme Court held that a public defender does not act under color of state law "when performing a lawyer's 'traditional functions' as counsel to a defendant in a criminal proceeding." The Court formulated a "functions" test to distinguish cases holding that public defenders act under color of state law when performing administrative tasks or when engaging in nontraditional or criminal acts. The author questions the Court's marked curtailment of indigents' access to federal courts when alleging ineffective representation by public defenders under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Moreover, the author concludes that the Court created these artificial distinctions and found no state action primarily to decrease the number of civil rights actions against public defenders.