Public Defender

In the landmark 1963 case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution and held that a fundamental and essential prerequisite to a fair criminal justice system is the right to a defense by competent and effective lawyers. The Court stated, “… reason and reflection require us to recognize that in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to us to be an obvious truth.” Of all the services Nevada County provides, only the services provided by the Public Defender’s Office are mandated by the Constitution.

Since Gideon v. Wainwright was decided, the promise of equal access to effective assistance of counsel is alive and well in Nevada County. As the Chief Public Defender of Nevada County, I am extremely proud of the legal representation my office provides to indigent defendants, and I am proud of the role we play in the criminal justice system.

Not only are we full and active partners in implementing system changes necessitated by criminal justice realignment, but we collaborate with partners to optimize outcomes and to minimize collateral consequences for our clients. For example, just a few years ago, your friend or family member could have gone to state prison for stealing food or possessing drugs. In sending them there, we were telling ourselves that they deserved the punishment or that they would dislike prison so much they would make different decisions when they got out. In reality, we were either postponing the next bad act or making a better criminal. Today, with the advent of criminal justice realignment and the programs we have put in place in Nevada County, we are keeping that same person in our community and emphasizing decisions and treatment options that address the factors directly causing criminal behavior. This could not have happened without the full assistance of all of the departments involved in the criminal law system, including the Public Defender’s Office.

However, first and foremost, we are litigators. Our role is to insist that law enforcement and prosecutors operate within the scope of their authority and that evidence is tested to the fullest extent of the law. Why are these services important? Because Americans believe in fairness. They accept the idea that laws should apply equally and that punishment should fit the crime. However, many people also believe that they will never need the services of a criminal attorney, much less a lawyer from the Public Defender’s Office. If they are lucky – in life and all it has to offer – that is true. What every person should appreciate, though, is that the Public Defender’s Office, in addition to representing people individually, also provides a system of checks and balances on the criminal law system as a whole. It guarantees that no agency – whether that be the District Attorney’s Office or a law enforcement agency – is allowed to operate unchallenged and unquestioned.

In the coming week, the Nevada County Public Defender’s Office, along with Public Defenders across the country, will celebrate National Public Defense week. This is a week during which we acknowledge the hard work done across the nation by public defenders. Please join me in acknowledging the accomplishments of Public Defenders in Nevada County and around the nation.

Keri Klein
Chief Public Defender
Nevada County 

Mission Statement

Public defenders stand alone, armed only with their wits, training and dedication. Inspired by their clients' hope, faith and trust, they are the warriors and valkyries of those desperately in need of a champion. Public Defenders, by protecting the downtrodden and the poor, shield against infringement of our protections and, in reality, protect us all.
- Hightower v. State, 592 So.2nd 689 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1991)
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