In the United States, the right free legal advice is protected by the Supreme Court Judgment of Gideon v. Wainwright  where a defendant successfully argued that his lack of legal advice prevented him from receiving a fair trial. The decision was in part based upon the right found in the 14th Amendment to due process of law and partly on the 6th Amendment right to counsel. This decision has had the effect of ensuring that every state has some form of facility available for indigent defendants. There is also a federal system of public defenders, which was established in 1964.
There are potential conflicts of interest inherent in the role of a public defender. As an employee of the state, he or she must attempt to balance the duties owed to a client with the duty not to cause unnecessary cost and delay to the court process. There are also potential conflicts of interest when one public defender is required to defend multiple defendants, or when the defendants each have separate public defenders from the same office.