Public Defender's Office

The advent of public defenders as a routine part of our criminal justice system is fairly recent. Before the landmark decision of Gideon v. Wainwright(1963), courthouse designers gave little consideration to the space needs of public defenders. Today, the public defender system is well established as a part of the justice system. Most of the work undertaken by the public defender is related to pretrial, trial, and pre-sentencing. In general, space needs for the public defender's office are similar to those of the prosecutor's office.

The design and image of the public defender's office should be similar to that of the prosecuting attorney or other law offices.

As with the prosecutor's office, the reception area may be centralized, decentralized, or a combination. Attorneys should have private offices that accommodate two to three visitors and should be located in areas removed from noise as well as the circulation traffic of the main office. A typical attorney office should be approximately 120 to 150 square feet. Investigators may require private offices due to the confidential nature of their work, or two or three may share an over-sized office and use an interview room when private conversations are necessary. Paralegals could also work in either a private or semiprivate environment. Most clerical staff may use partitioned work stations. Additional spaces generally include a law library, conference rooms, deposition or interview rooms, storage area for videotapes, adequate file and storage areas, copier area, and break area.

The public defender's office should have a quiet and secure working environment analogous to that of a private law firm. The physical conditions of the space should promote proper lighting, heating, cooling, and ventilation.

All areas of the office should be accessible to persons with disabilities.

Ideally, the public defender's office should be located in the courthouse, but in an area distinctly separate from the prosecutor's office. This is necessary to establish a clear demarcation between the competing interests represented by each office. The public defender will have defendants visiting the office, and they should not come into close contact with witnesses that may be visiting the prosecutor's offices.

When it is not possible to locate the public defender's office in the courthouse, the office should be nearby and certainly within easy walking distance. As with the prosecuting attorney's office, a dedicated workroom in the courthouse should be dedicated to public defenders.

The public defender's office should be accessible from the public circulation zones. Through a card or key entry system, staff could be given access to the private circulation routes to the courtrooms and other restricted areas of the building without the need to enter the public circulation zones.

The security of the public defender's office should be comparable to that of the prosecuting attorney's office. Public and staff work areas should be separated using the central screening and reception area described in the prosecuting attorney's section. Duress alarms should be located at the public counter so that the receptionist may signal central security in case of trouble.

The Public Defender's private office should be furnished with a large desk, bookshelves, four to five chairs, small work or conference table, and coat closet.

Assistant attorney offices should be furnished with a desk, credenza, bookcase, several chairs, and a filing cabinet. Equipment will include a personal computer with keyboard and video display monitor, telephone, and printer.

The reception area should be furnished with several chairs and small table. The receptionist should have a desk with personal computer, printer, and display monitor. Space may be provided for a filing cabinet.

It should be assumed that every work station, or office, will require a computer workstation with video display monitor(s), a printer, and document scanner. Many workstations will require dual monitors. Other devices that may need to be accommodated include telephone, phone chargers, battery chargers, and computer tablets. Each workstation will require a minimum of two quadriplex electrical outlets and one dedicated computer power receptacle, two data jacks and one phone jack (3 CAT6 lines). Specialized workstations may require additional electrical outlets. Because of the heat generated by electrical equipment, steps should be taken to ensure that equipment is cooled. Plans should include room for considerable growth in electrical demand.