As a result of the 1963 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 Dauphin 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.
In Dauphin County, the County Commissioners appoint a chief public defender, who is full-time. In addition to the chief public defender, there are 21 other attorneys in the Office. There is a support staff consisting of investigators, paraprofessionals, secretaries and an office administrator.