[photo, William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul St., Baltimore, Maryland] In 1971, the Office of Public Defender was created by the General Assembly (Chapter 209, Acts of 1971). Its formation had been recommended in December 1970 by the Joint Governor's Commission and Baltimore City Bar Association's Committee for the Study of the Public Defender System for the State of Maryland.

Prior to authorization of the Office of Public Defender, there was no right to apppointed counsel in Maryland, only the discretionary authority of the trial court to appoint counsel (Chapter 46, Acts of 1886).

William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul St., Baltimore, Maryland, August 2015. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

Following the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright (372 U.S. 335), the right to counsel in federal prosecutions began to be applied with equal force to state prosecutions. From 1963 to 1970, the right to counsel also expanded to include counsel at line-ups, custodial interrogations, preliminary hearings, and arraignments.

Today, in Maryland, the Office of Public Defender provides legal representation to defendants who cannot afford to hire a private attorney without incurring undue financial hardship. Assistance of counsel is extended to qualified indigent adults (who may be incarcerated or not) and to juveniles in proceedings before the District Court of Maryland and Circuit Courts, and during juvenile hearings.

Throughout the legal process, the Office of Public Defender represents defendants while in custody, during interrogation, and at the preliminary hearing, arraignment, trial, and appeal. It defends clients in criminal and juvenile proceedings, post-conviction proceedings, probation and parole revocations, involuntary commitments to public or private institutions, and termination of parental rights proceedings. The Office also provides counsel to parents in Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) proceedings and civil contempt proceedings for nonsupport before a judge where there is the possibility of incarceration. For indigent persons facing civil commitment to Maryland psychiatric hospitals, the Office provides representation as well.

Through a central headquarters and forty-eight offices in twelve districts conforming to the twelve geographical districts of the District Court of Maryland, the Office conducts its work.


The Board of Trustees reviews the administration of the Public Defender system and advises the Public Defender on its operation. It coordinates the activities of Public Defender Regional Advisory Boards and consults on matters such as fees, and the formation of panels of attorneys.

Thirteen members constitute the Board of Trustees of the Public Defender system. Eleven are appointed by the Governor with Senate advice and consent to three-year terms. One member each is selected by the Senate President and House Speaker. All members must be practicing attorneys-at-law (Chapter 224, Acts of 2010; Code Criminal Procedure Article, secs. 16-301, 16-302).

[photo, William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul St., Baltimore, Maryland]


The Public Defender directs the operation of the Office of Public Defender and its district offices. Fees and expenses paid for private legal and technical services are set and the services of volunteer workers are coordinated by the Public Defender. The Public Defender also coordinates the services of the Office with federal programs providing counsel to indigent defendants. In addition, the Public Defender cooperates with professional groups to evaluate the causes of crime, develop ways to reduce or discourage criminal behavior and rehabilitate offenders, and improve the administration of the criminal justice system.

Appointed by the Board of Trustees to a six-year term, the Public Defender must be an attorney-at-law who has been admitted to practice in Maryland by the Court of Appeals and engaged in the practice of law for a period of five years prior to appointment.

William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul St., Baltimore, Maryland, August 2015. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

With the approval of the Board of Trustees, the Public Defender appoints the Deputy Public Defender and, for each district of the District Court, appoints one District Public Defender who must possess the same qualifications as the Public Defender. With the advice of the District Public Defender, Assistant Public Defenders may be appointed by the Public Defender (Chapters 223 & 224, Acts of 2010; Code Criminal Procedure Article, secs. 16-101 through 16-213).

Within the Office of Public Defender are seven statewide divisions: Forensics; Forensics Mental Health; Immigration; Juvenile Protection; Major Crimes and Complex Litigation; Post-Conviction Defenders; and Social Work. In addition, the Public Defender oversees three divisions concerned with Information Technology; Recruitment and Hiring; and Training.

Begun in April 2021, the Decarceration Initiative seeks to reduce the number of people in prison. The Initiative provides representation to those persons eligible for sentence reduction under the Juvenile Restoration Act (Chapter 61, Acts of 2021). Under that law, minors who were sentenced as adults may ask a judge to consider reducing their sentence after they have served twenty years in prison.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion works to recruit diverse talent, invest in professional development, increase cultural awareness, and promote a safe environment for all.

1 South Calvert Plaza, Suite 1210
200 East Baltimore St., Baltimore, MD 21202

The Major Crimes and Complex Litigation Division began as the Death Penalty Defense Unit in 1988, and was renamed the Capital Defense Division in 1989. The Division reformed as the Aggravated Homicide Division on July 1, 2009 [In 2013, the death penalty was repealed in Maryland (Chapter 156, Acts of 2013)]. Formerly under District Operations, the Division was placed directly under the Public Defender in 2015. In January 2016, it received its present name.

Statewide, the Division provides direct representation in homicide cases for which indigent defendants face life imprisonment or life, without the possibility of parole. In complex homicide litigation, the Division also assists public and private attorneys representing these defendants in Maryland courts. This assistance includes case review, litigation assistance, and expert preparation.

The Office of Public Defender does not represent clients in federal court.

[photo, 217 East Redwood St., Baltimore, Maryland] POST-CONVICTION DEFENDERS DIVISION
217 East Redwood St., Baltimore, MD 21202

The Post-Conviction Defenders Division, originated in 1975 as the Inmate Services Division, and reformed as the Collateral Review Division in 1993. The Division received its present name on September 1, 2015.

The Division offers legal assistance to qualified clients who are serving a sentence of incarceration or are on parole or probation for the conviction. The Division provides representation in a wide range of collateral post-trial proceedings, including post-conviction applications, motions to reopen, parole revocation, habeas corpus proceedings (including extradition), interstate and intrastate detainers, and requests for credit for time spent in prison prior to trial and sentencing.

217 East Redwood St., Baltimore, Maryland, August 2015. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

Informally and without recourse to litigation, the Division also helps resolve inmate complaints and personal problems that arise during imprisonment. Referrals are made to the Prisoners Assistance Project, and the Inmate Grievance Office of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Formerly located at 300 West Preston St., Baltimore, the Division moved to its present address in August 2015.

The Resource Development Policy and Public Affairs Division began as the Policy and Development Division, but changed its name in November 2022.

In order to provide meaningful outcomes for its clients, the Division identifies and addresses injustice in policy and systems that affect people who enter the justice system through court proceedings and advocacy. The Division works to secure accurate fact-findings and forensics; proportional punishment; public health issue decriminalization; realistic re-entry opportunities; reasonable charges; treatment access; and unbiased policing and arrests practices.

The Training Division prepares lawyers and staff for the responsibility of representing a person accused of a crime, as well as for the challenges of the work's caseload. The Division develops and oversees all training curricula, and manages the agency's Continuing Legal Education Program. Moreover, twice a year, it offers Gideon's Promise training, which seeks to provide equal justice for marginalized communities.


The Litigation Support Divisions are specialized divisions that directly support the Office's attorneys with their clients and their cases. These divisions include Forensics, Forensic Mental Health, Immigration, Juvenile Protection, and Social Work. The Divisions are further aided by the Innocence Project.

In September 2012, an Immigration Attorney was designated within the Office of Public Defender. Thereafter, the Immigration Division organized in September 2019. It received its current name in January 2023.

The Division trains public defenders in immigration law and consultation on cases involving noncitizen clients. The Division also leads the Criminal/Immigration Law Collaborative, a regional network of immigration and criminal defense attorneys that focuses on immigration law trends and immigration enforcement.

The Forensics Division litigates criminal cases in which scientific evidence has a special impact, and provides technical support to other divisions in scrutinizing forensic evidence. The Division also develops experts in present and emerging forensic fields, and trains public defenders about the effective use of evidence and cross examination of experts.

The Forensic Mental Health Division provides attorneys with access to resources and support for representation of clients with complex mental health issues.

The Juvenile Protection Division was organized in 2007.

For juvenile offenders represented by the Office of the Public Defender, the Division monitors conditions of confinement in facilities operated by the Department of Juvenile Services. The Division works with trial attorneys to ensure that court orders are followed and the health and safety of detained juveniles are protected.

In December 2010, the Social Work Division was formed.

The Division assesses underlying causes of client behaviors, and develops recommendations for treatment.


Under the Deputy Public Defender are three divisions: Appellate, Mental Health, and Parental Defense.


William Donald Schaefer Tower, Suite 1302
6 St. Paul St., Baltimore, MD 21202

In 1975, the Appellate Division was formed.

The Division has statewide responsibility for representing Public Defender clients in direct appeals from the circuit courts to the Court of Special Appeals, and in further review proceedings before the Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. It provides research and consultation on legal issues for staff and panel attorneys throughout the twelve Public Defender Districts. The Division also publishes a monthly Appellate Update with summaries of reported Maryland appellate court and U.S. Supreme Court opinions relating to criminal law, as well as articles on procedure, trial tactics, and changes in rules of procedure and criminal statutes.


1 South Calvert Plaza, Suite 1230
201 East Baltimore St., Baltimore, MD 21202

Since 1975, the Mental Health Division has functioned within the Office of Public Defender.

At hospitals throughout the State and in related court proceedings, the Division furnishes counsel to persons involuntarily confined to public and private mental health facilities in Maryland.

Representation is provided to indigent clients upon admission to the hospital, at their periodic reviews, and when seeking judicial release from psychiatric institutions. Criminals in cases involving mental health and similar issues also are represented by the Division. For these, Division staff assist every district and division in the Public Defender system and appear in cases from the district and juvenile courts through the circuit courts to the Court of Appeals.


300 North Gay St., 2nd floor, Baltimore, MD 21202

The Parental Defense Division originated in 1991 as the Children in Need of Assistance (CINA) Division. It reformed under its present name in September 2017.

The Division provides representation for parents and legal guardians defending against allegations of abuse and neglect when removal of the children by the State is a possibility. In addition, the Division represents parents at hearings to terminate parental rights, and guardians at guardianship review hearings.


District Operations encompasses the legal representation which the Office of Public Defender provides to defendants through twelve district offices whose boundaries correspond to those of the twelve District Courts. Also under District Operations is the Aggrevated Homicide Division.

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