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

Past Accomplishments

During the 2002 session of the Rhode Island General Assembly the Office of the Public Defender in cooperation with the Rhode Island Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers was successful in introducing and passing the Rhode Island Innocence Protection Act which codified and standardized procedures for post-conviction DNA testing for those who may have been wrongfully convicted.

In 2003 the Public Defender was successful in introducing and passing a Jury Diversity Act which addresses the gross disparity between the ethnic and racial makeup of the community and the jury pool in Providence and Bristol Counties.

In 2006, the Public Defender was successful in passing legislation expanding the court's discretion to forgive punitive court costs, fines, fees, and assessments by increasing the value of what a day in prison is worth for those incarcerated for failure to pay, from $5 per day to $150 per day. After enactment, this legislation resulted in less incarceration of those without the ability to pay.

During the 2007 legislative session, the Public Defender worked on a successful legislative effort brought by the Family Life Center (now OpenDoors) making comprehensive changes to the laws governing the court’s assessment and collection of fees, fines, court costs and other monetary obligations. This legislation has made it easier for the courts to waive such fees in appropriate cases.

In 2008, the Public Defender successfully introduced and passed legislation outlawing cash-only bail, except in cases where the defendant owes court-ordered restitution. This legislation clarified pre-existing provisions of state constitutional and statutory law prohibiting cash-only bail.

In 2010, the Public Defender successfully introduced and passed legislation creating a task force of criminal justice stakeholders to reduce the possibility of mistaken eyewitness identification. The Task Force was required to consult with eyewitness identification practitioners and experts and develop guidelines for policies, procedures and training with respect to the collection and handling of eyewitness evidence in criminal investigations by law enforcement agencies in Rhode Island. Finally, the Task Force was required to submit a report on the guidelines developed and recommendations concerning their use was presented to the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President of the Senate, and the Chairpersons of the Judiciary Committees of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The final report of the task force was submitted on December 27, 2010 and a full copy of the Task Force Report and supporting documents has been compiled here. One of the recommendations of the task force is that its life be extended until April, 2012, and in 2011, legislation will be introduced at the request of the Public Defender to do that, so that it might continue its work. This and all of the Task Force’s 11 recommendations were adopted unanimously.

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