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

Who We Are

The Rhode Island Public Defender employs a staff of more than 90 full-time professionals devoted to providing high-quality defense for those guaranteed counsel by state and federal law. The number of attorneys on staff occasionally fluctuates with special projects, but generally numbers nearly 50, assisted by a clerical staff of about 20. They specialize in different areas of defense: criminal cases, juvenile cases, parental rights cases, and appeals. A specialized staff of arraignment attorneys provides representation at the earliest stages of criminal prosecutions in order to minimize time spent in jail awaiting trial.

Because case preparation is such an essential and integral part of defense services, a team of seven investigators works close with the staff lawyers to prepare cases for disposition or trial. Frequently, experts in forensic specialties are retained to provide analysis or testimony relevant to such issues as competence to stand trial, mental state responsibility, ballistics, handwriting, DNA analysis, accident and fire reconstruction, and the like.

Rhode Island is home to a number of people who do not speak English as a first language and the RIPD is committed to ensuring that clients fully understand the legal process they are going through. For that reason, two full time Spanish interpreters are employed and are available not only for court sessions but for client meetings with lawyers and interviews with witnesses. When translation services for other languages are needed, the RIPD retains outside interpreters. Clients should always request an interpreter whenever they feel less-than-fluent in English: it is important that clients have a full understanding of what is happening. The legal process is already complicated, and language difficulties unnecessarily make it more so.

Seven social workers assist attorneys in various aspects of case preparation and client services. Diagnostic attention helps determine whether clients would benefit from referrals to providers of substance abuse or mental health treatment; social workers and the staff Community Outreach Liaison can assist clients to obtain housing, employment and education resources. Social work intervention is often advantageous in helping to formulate non-incarceration case dispositions.

Finally, an interview staff, assisted by dozens of interns, screens clients for financial eligibility and helps ensure that the intake process runs smoothly and does not unnecessarily impede the RIPD’s ability to provide legal representation to its clients at the earliest possible stage of the case.

Copyright © 2013 Rhode Island Public Defender