University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review

Document Type



The role of the public defender in the United States is one that is often disparaged and widely misunderstood. This note will first attempt to illuminate the evolution of the public defender movement in the United States, detailing its rather quiet ascent to the forefront of the criminal justice system: from the early work of Clara Foltz, to the trial of Clarence Earl Gideon, and beyond. The note will also broach just a few of the many systemic issues faced by the modern day public defender, including the unfortunate perception of inferiority from both the general public and indigent defendants alike. This perception is further accentuated by the vast disparity in resources between the American public defender and the American prosecutor. This resource disparity is due to a plethora of internal and external forces, including the devastating effect of the United States’ War on Drugs. While the creation of certain diversionary programs like drug treatment courts have helped to ameliorate some stress on public defender workloads, it is not a sustainable solution to the existing problems. The note concludes with a comparative analysis to the United Kingdom, and several posited solutions to the public defender crisis in the United States.