Federal public defender

In the United States, federal public defender organizations are entities in the United States Federal Government, and their staffs are federal employees. Federal public defenders handle criminal trials in United States Federal Court for alleged federal crimes or criminal cases involving state law violations in which a federal court can assert federal jurisdiction.


The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court guarantees a criminal defendant the right to representation by an attorney in serious criminal prosecutions.[1]


There are two types of federal defender organizations: federal public defender organizations and community defender organizations. There are 81 authorized federal defender organizations. These organizations employ more than 3,100 lawyers, investigators, paralegals, and support personnel and serve 92 of the 94 federal judicial districts.

Chief federal public defender

The chief federal public defender is appointed to a four-year term by the United States courts of appeals of the circuit in which the defender organization is located. The United States Congress placed this appointment authority in the United States courts of appeals rather than with the United States district court in order to insulate federal public defenders from the involvement of the court before which the defender principally practices.[1]


In a 2011 survey, Richard Posner and Albert Yoon found that federal judges perceived federal public defenders as providing higher quality representation than either privately retained counsel or attorneys appointed under the Criminal Justice Act.[2][3][4]


By law, lawyers employed by Federal Public Defender offices have salaries set to match those of lawyers in the U.S. Attorney's office. The combination of salary, benefits and support team tends to attract, and more importantly retain, highly qualified attorneys. Especially in more rural areas, where federal criminal work is considered well-paid, many federal defenders have risen up through the state systems before becoming federal defenders.[5]

Case load

In 2014, the United States Sentencing Commission reported that there were 75,998 federal criminal cases in which an offender was sentenced in United States federal court.[6]

Notable federal public defenders


  1. ^ a b "Defender Services". uscourts.gov. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
  2. ^ Posner, Richard (2010). "What Judges Think of the Quality of Legal Representation". Stanford Law Review. 63 – via Chicago Unbound.
  3. ^ Posner, Richard A., and Albert H. Yoon. What Judges Think of the Quality of Legal Representation. Stanford Law Review, vol. 63, no. 2, January 2011, p. 317-350.
  4. ^ Wilkinson II., J. Harvie (May 2014). "In Defense of American Criminal Justice". Vanderbilt Law Review. 67: 1127.
  5. ^ Parsons, Inga L. (1997). "Making It a Federal Case: A Model for Indigent Representation". Annual Survey of American Law. 1997 (3): 837–868. – via HeinOnline.
  6. ^ "Overview of Federal Criminal Cases" (PDF). ussc.gov. United States Sentencing Commission. Retrieved 12 October 2015.

External links

  • Case Weights for Federal Defender Organizations
  • Faces of the Judiciary - The Role of a Federal Defender