Rhode Island Public Defender

Our mission is to provide high quality representation to our clients, fulfilling the governmental obligation of effective assistance of counsel, fundamental fairness and due process. Our goal is to provide client-centered advice, holistic representation and zealous advocacy. Our commitment is to treat our clients with dignity, compassion and fairness.
Mary S. McElroy, Public Defender

RIPD Background

The Rhode Island Public Defender was created in 1941 when the Rhode Island General Assembly passed P.L. l94l, ch. l007. It is believed to be the first statewide full service public defender office established in the United States. Since 1842, the Rhode Island Constitution has guaranteed the right to counsel in state criminal prosecutions and in 1963 the United States Constitution's similar guarantee was applied to the states. These constitutional provisions, plus the due process clause and various statutes, implement and extend the right to counsel to a variety of proceedings. In general terms, counsel must be provided at state expense to those unable to afford retained lawyers in all criminal proceedings, certain civil proceedings involving incarceration, juvenile prosecutions, and parental rights proceedings alleging unfitness of a parent. The right to counsel applies to all stages of these cases from arraignment through final appeal.

Rhode Island has chosen to fulfill this responsibility primarily through lawyers employed by a single agency, the RIPD. All RIPD attorneys are admitted to practice in the Rhode Island Bar. They work full time for the RIPD, have no private practices, and do not charge fees to clients for their services. On those occasions when the RIPD cannot represent a client, a private attorney who has met certain qualifications set by the judiciary will be appointed at the state's expense; in parental rights cases, a lawyer from Rhode Island Legal Services is often appointed.

Many RIPD attorneys are career defenders. Turnover is very low and attorneys generally have many years of experience in the same specialty.


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