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  • Advance FOR RELEASE at 10:00 A.M. EDT
  • Thursday, September 16, 2010
  • Bureau of Justice Statistics
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WASHINGTON - About 1,000 public defender offices in 49 states and the District of Columbia received nearly 5.6 million cases and employed over 15,000 litigating attorneys in 2007, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, announced today. Using the National Advisory Commissionís (NAC) numeric caseload standard, BJS examined public defender office caseloads and found that the majority of offices exceeded the maximum recommended number of cases per attorney.

The findings are based on two reports released by BJS examining public defender offices across the country. One report examines the 530 offices in 27 states and the District of Columbia that are funded and administered at the county or local jurisdictional level. The other report examines public defender programs in the 22 states administering and overseeing the provision of indigent defense in all jurisdictions across the state. The Census of Public Defender Offices, the data source for both reports, is the first study to collect information from all public defender offices nationwide that provide general trial representation for indigent defendants.

The 530 county-based public defender offices received more than four million indigent defense cases in 2007, accounting for nearly three-quarters of the public defender cases received nationwide. These offices employed about 10,700 litigating attorneys. Based on the numeric caseload guidelines, about one in four county-based offices reported a sufficient number of attorneys to handle the incoming caseload. Nearly a quarter of all offices reported less than half the number of litigating attorneys required to meet professional caseload guidelines for the number of cases received.

The 22 state public defender programs employed 4,300 litigating attorneys to handle the 1.5 million indigent defense cases received in 2007. Four of the 17 programs reporting complete caseload data had a sufficient number of attorneys to meet caseload standards. Across both county-based offices and state programs, misdemeanor and ordinance violation cases accounted for the largest percentage of cases received. Felony non-capital cases were the second largest type of case received.

County-based public defender offices in the 25 states with death penalty statutes received over 1,200 death penalty eligible cases and handled more than 900 cases in which prosecutors filed for the death penalty in 2007. Public defender offices in these 25 states spent a combined total of nearly $30 million providing capital case representation. In 2007, state public defender programs in 11 states with the death penalty received over 430 capital cases and handled more than 200 cases in which prosecutors filed for the death penalty. The eleven programs spent a combined total of $11.3 million providing capital case representation.

The majority of county-based public defender offices and state defender programs employed fewer than the recommended number of support staff, such as paralegals, investigators, indigency screeners, and clerical staff. County-based offices employed a median of seven full-time equivalent litigating attorneys; fewer than 10 percent of these offices met the guideline of at least one investigator for every three litigating attorneys. State public defender programs employed a median of 163 litigating attorneys. Eighteen of the 20 state programs which reported support staff data had fewer than the recommended ratio of investigators to attorneys.

The median entry-level salary for assistant public defenders ranged from $42,000 to $45,000 in county-based public defender offices and from $46,000 to $58,000 in state-based programs. In county-based public defender offices, the median length of service for assistant public defenders was six years and the median attrition rate was less than one percent in 2007. In state-based defender programs, the median length of service for assistant public defenders was nine years and the median attrition rate was 10 percent in 2007.

The reports, State Public Defender Programs, 2007 (NCJ 228229) and County-based and Local Public Defender Offices, 2007 (NCJ 231175), were written by BJS statisticians Donald Farole, Jr. and Lynn Langton. Following publication, the reports can be found at


The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), headed by Assistant Attorney General Laurie O. Robinson, provides federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP has seven components: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; the Community Capacity Development Office, and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART). More information about OJP can be found at