public defender, governmental official who represents indigent persons accused of crime. U.S. Supreme Court decisions expanding the right to counsel to pretrial proceedings and holding that a person cannot be sentenced to even one day in jail unless a lawyer was provided have created a need for more lawyers to represent the indigent. Proponents of the public defender office claim that it is the most efficient and effective method of protecting the indigent. Other systems include court-appointed counsel from the local bar, clinics operated by law schools, and legal aid societies. The societies are privately funded and offer civil and criminal representation.
pub·lic de·fend·er • n. Law a lawyer employed at public expense in a criminal trial to represent a defendant who is unable to afford legal assistance.
An attorney appointed by a court or employed by the government to represent indigent defendants in criminal actions.