As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainright
, the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted the Public Defender Act in 1968. This act established the office of Public Defender throughout the Commonwealth and specified the duties of the office.
The Public Defender is responsible for furnishing legal counsel to any person who, for lack of sufficient funds, is unable to obtain legal counsel in any situation where representation is constitutionally guaranteed. In general, a person is entitled to legal counsel whenever that individual's personal liberty is at stake. This would include capital crimes, misdemeanor and felony offenses, summary offenses that carry a mandatory sentence of incarceration and commitment proceedings under the Mental Health Procedures Act.
In Allegheny County, eligibility for public defender services is based on federal poverty guidelines. Income, family financial responsibilities and the nature of the charges are all considered in determining qualification for legal representation by the public defender.
The Office of the Public Defender is located at 542 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA on the 4th floor of the County Office Building. Client interviews are conducted Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM until 3:45 PM. Every applicant must bring a copy of their charges and verification of income or support.