Public Defender's Office


To protect and defend the rights of indigent people in Washoe County by providing them access to justice through professional legal representation

The right to appointed counsel is not an express constitutional right.  The Sixth Amendment does state that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall "have the right of counsel for his defense", but it was not until 1963, in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, that the United States Supreme Court finally required that state courts provide counsel for those who could not afford a lawyer. Nine years later, in Argersinger v. Hamlin, the Supreme Court extended the reach of Gideon by ruling that due process requires a state to provide defense counsel to indigent persons in both misdemeanors and felony cases, if a possibility of imprisonment exists. 
However, neither Gideon nor Argersinger mandate how defense systems should be organized or funded.  Instead, each state has defined the right to counsel through its own individual constitutional provisions, judicial opinions, and legislation.  There is, consequently, no single system or model that is used to fulfill the right to counsel at the state level.  A variety of indigent defense systems with assorted strengths and weaknesses have emerged over the past forty years.

After the Gideon decision was handed down, Washoe County created its first Public Defender's Office.  The first office was formed in 1969 and had a staff of 3 Attorneys, one Investigator, and 3 Support Staff. Today, the Washoe County Public Defender's Office has 61 full-time employees, including 36 full-time Attorneys.  The office currently employs 8 Investigators, a Mitigation Specialist, and 16 Support Staff. The Washoe County Public Defender's Office represents indigent persons in criminal cases, juvenile proceedings, involuntary commitment hearings, parental termination petitions, parole hearings at the Nevada Department of Corrections, persons involved in juvenile and family drug court, and more. In 2010, the Washoe County Public Defender's Office handled over 8,000 cases and made over 32,000 court appearances. The Washoe County Public Defender's Office sponsors an in-house scholarship program for the National Criminal Defense College, one of the most prestigious criminal defense training programs in the United States.  Along with innovative and aggressive trial work, the Washoe County Public Defender's Office also strives to be a community-based defender organization.  We provide education services to the community on various topics including accessing mental health resources and helping juveniles deal with police encounters.