What is a Public Defender?

What is a public defender?

What is a Public Defender?

For defendants in criminal cases, the right to an attorney is afforded by both the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Arizona Constitution. Anyone who is unable to afford hiring a private attorney will be provided with a court-appointed attorney.

These court-appointed attorneys are known as public defenders. Appointed by the State of Arizona, these public defenders provide full legal representation at no cost to the defendant. All public defenders in Arizona have the following qualifications:

  • Licensed attorneys in the State of Arizona
  • Good standing with the Arizona State Bar

Public defenders are available to defendants in the following Arizona cases:

  • Superior court cases
  • Justice court cases
  • Extradition hearings
  • Mental disorder/health hearings
  • Involuntary commitment hearings
  • Juvenile delinquency cases
  • Cases in which jail time is a possibility
  • Appeals

As stated in A.R.S. 11-584, public defenders, on order of the court, defend, advise, and counsel any person who is entitled to counsel as a matter of law and who is not financially able to employ counsel in any of the types of cases listed above.

Public Defenders in City Courts

Eligible defendants who have criminal cases within city courts will also have public defenders available to them, as appointed by the city or municipality in which their case is being heard. Each city’s public has their own guidelines regarding cost and eligibility. Cities typically contract with local, private attorneys to provide public defender services.

The City of Phoenix may provide public defenders for free, or at reduced cost, to defendants charged with misdemeanor crimes for which they are facing jail time. The City of Phoenix Public Defender’s Office contracts both private attorneys and public employees.

The City of Mesa reserves the right to determine eligibility for a public defender by a judge in the courtroom in conjunction with financial eligibility. They represent misdemeanor crimes. City of Mesa public defenders are private practice attorneys who have been hired by the City to handle eligible cases in Mesa Municipal Court.

The City of Tucson’s public defenders handle only misdemeanor cases where the defendant is suffering from financial hardship and is facing jail time.

Defendants with cases in these city or municipal courts should contact their court directly to understand their options when it comes to public defenders.



With offices in Lake Havasu City and Scottsdale, our firm serves the entire state of Arizona, with a particular focus on criminal defense, family law, and juvenile cases.

Our goal is for the best outcome for your criminal case, which can include:

  • charges that are reduced or dropped.
  • top experts reviewing your case.
  • aggressive negotiations with the prosecution for plea bargains.
  • fines or probation in lieu of jail time.

At Rideout Law Group, our attorneys are able to expertly examine the evidence in your case to provide a strong strategy for argument that leads to an outcome that is most favorable to you. We have experience in all types of criminal cases for both adults and juveniles, with positive outcomes both in plea negotiations as well as jury trial settings.

Call us today for a free consultation at 480-584-3328.

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