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Who We Are


OUR MISSION is to provide high quality, client-centered legal representation to indigent persons of all ages, accused of crimes or facing a deprivation of liberty throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Our fulfillment of this mission is essential to the defense and protection of fundamental constitutional rights and the preservation of a fair and just criminal justice system. As we fulfill this mission, we seek to address our clients’ needs as members of our society. We passionately advocate for alternatives to costly incarceration and provide access to services which help to make clients more productive members of their communities, thereby saving costs, reducing recidivism, and making our communities safer. Our commitment to and strategy for meeting this mission is outlined in the 2016-2020 DPA Strategic Plan.

HISTORY OF DPA: A half century ago the Kentucky Supreme Court held that "common justice demands" that an attorney must be appointed when a person charged with a felony is too poor to hire his own counsel. Gholson v. Commonwealth, 212 S.W.2d 537 (Ky. 1948). In the 1960s Kentucky attorneys began to request compensation when they were forced to represent indigents charged wit​h a crime. In 1963, the United States Supreme Court determined that if a state wants to take away a person's liberty, it has to provide an attorney to those persons too poor to hire their own in order to comply with the Federal Constitution. Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). While consistently unsuccessful in convincing Kentucky's highest Court that the judiciary could and should order payment, Kentucky's appointed attorneys did persuade the Kentucky Supreme Court to the point that the Court began to directly encourage the General Assembly to provide a systematic solution for paying the attorneys who were being made to represent the accused.
On September 22, 1972, Kentucky's highest Court characterized the forced representation of indigents as an "intolerable condition" and held it was an unconstitutional taking of an attorney's property - his service to the client - without compensation. From then on no Kentucky attorney could be required to represent an indigent absent compensation. Bradshaw v. Ball, 487 S.W.2d 294 (Ky. 1972). While the appeal in Bradshaw was pending, the 1972 Legislature, at the request of Governor Wendell Ford, created the Office of Public Defender, now the Department of Public Advocacy (DPA), and gave it the responsibility to represent all persons in Kentucky charged with or convicted of a crime. House Bill 461 sponsored by Representatives Kenton, Graves and Swinford passed the House 60-18 on March 7, 1972 and the Senate 26-5 on March 14, 1972. It allocated $1,287,000 for FY 73 and FY 74.
DPA AGENCY ORGANIZATION: Each year, DPA attorneys, investigators, mitigation specialists, alternative sentencing workers and administrative specialists handle over 140,000 trial and post trial cases statewide. These include involuntary commitment, juvenile cases, misdemeanors including DUI, and felonies including complex and difficult cases including sex abuse, murder, and cases where death is sought as a penalty.
To best serve our clients, DPA is organized into four divisions: