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700 East Twiggs Street
5th Floor
Tampa, Florida 33602

Plant City Office
302 N. Michigan Avenue
Suite 1007B
Plant City, Florida 33563

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PO Box 172910
Tampa, Florida 33672

Phone (813) 272-5980

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• Administrative Staff Contact Information
• Community Service and Pro Bono Activities
• Recognition and Awards
• The History and Role of the Public Defender

Julie Holt, the role of the Public Defender
The History and Role of the Public Defender


The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to an attorney for those accused of a crime. "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense."

The United States Supreme Court has interpreted that right to mean that the court must appoint an attorney to represent a criminal defendant who cannot afford to hire one. The most significant decision on the right to counsel in Supreme Court history was Gideon v. Wainwright1, in which the Court held the right of a poor person in a criminal trial to have the assistance of an attorney is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial.

Clarence Earl Gideon The case of Clarence Earl Gideon started in Florida and ultimately led to the creation of the Florida Public Defender System in 1963. When he was accused of burglarizing and stealing from a poolroom in Panama City, Florida, he was in his 50s, had an extensive criminal record, and had served time in jails throughout the country.

When Gideon requested the Court to appoint an attorney to represent him, the judge denied his request based upon the requirements of Florida law at the time. Gideon represented himself in a jury trial and was convicted. He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and won.

In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Gideon, the Florida legislature created the Florida Public Defender System, establishing an Office of the Public Defender for each of Florida’s judicial circuits. At that time there were only 16 Judicial circuits in the State of Florida; that number has since grown to 20 judicial circuits. The 20 circuits include a total of 67 counties throughout the state.

Florida Statute Section 27.50 sets out the framework for Public Defenders: "For each judicial circuit, there shall be a Public Defender who shall be and shall have been for the preceding 5 years, a member in good standing of The Florida Bar. The Public Defender shall be elected at the general election, for a term of 4 years, by the qualified electors of the judicial circuit. The Public Defender shall be an elector of the state and shall reside within the territorial jurisdiction of the judicial circuit in which he or she serves." All attorneys working for the elected Public Defender (called "assistant public defenders") are also lawyers in good standing with the Florida Bar.

Florida’s Public Defenders represent adults and children charged with criminal offenses and clients held in civil commitment under the "Baker Act" and the "Sexually Violent Predator Act." Assistant public defenders represent defendants who are determined indigent and appointed to the office by the Clerk of Court or a judge. In our office (the 13th Judicial Circuit, Hillsborough County), attorneys are supported by investigators, disposition specialists, and legal assistants. Third-year law students and graduates not yet admitted to the Florida Bar (called certified legal interns) also work with the Public Defender's Office. They investigate cases, research the law, and after receiving special training may represent individuals in court. Our office keeps up with all new developments in the law. As part of continuing legal education, we hold in-house training programs for all employees. We also send attorneys and other employees to outside training programs to ensure a continuing legal education.

"Each Era finds an improvement in Law for the benefit of Mankind"
Quote from the headstone of Clarence Earl Gideon
(August 30, 1910 - January 18, 1972)

The Constitution Project: Defending Gideon.

1 Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963)
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  The Law Office of Julianne M. Holt Public Defender is committed to efficiently providing our clients with effective legal representation, and treating our clients, our employees, and our community with dignity and respect.