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06/18/2024 12:11 PM
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
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House of Representatives
Session of 2023 - 2024 Regular Session


Posted: January 31, 2023 11:35 AM
From: Representative Dan L. Miller and Rep. Joanna E. McClinton, Rep. Chris Pielli
To: All House members
Subject: Recognizing Public Defenders
Today we understand that our public defenders (PDs) perform a critical constitutional function. PDs provide a check on government power by ensuring that before anyone’s liberty can be limited by state action, due process must be afforded which includes appropriate legal representation. This bedrock principle however did not always exist.
This March 18th marks the 60th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, the case that modernized our understanding of due process and created the public defender system as we know it. Gideon was a criminal case where Clarence Earl Gideon was tried and convicted of a minor crime and then sentenced to its maximum penalty, without the assistance of counsel. Gideon could not afford an attorney. The Court unanimously ruled that his right to due process under the Sixth Amendment had been violated and, further, that states are required to provide an attorney to those who cannot afford one.
This ground-breaking ruling led to a nationwide effort to recruit and train legal defense attorneys for the purpose of providing a public defense and protecting constitutional rights. Today, public defenders are a pillar of our legal system, giving voice and providing critical legal services to people typically in their most desperate moments.
We know that our PDs today continue to serve clients and communities often with limited resources, high caseloads, and disproportionate compensation. We still remain the only state in the union that does not provide state dollars to help offset the daily operational costs of our PD offices. Yet thousands of PDs in PA do their best to represent their clients and reaffirm our constitutional framework.
Please join us in recognizing the efforts of those PDs by commemorating March 18, 2023, as “Public Defender Day” in Pennsylvania. A draft of our proposed resolution is attached.

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Introduced as HR23