Puerto Rico

All data is current as of 2013, unless otherwise noted.
Return to the list of all States & Territories.

How the right to counsel is administered and structured

State commission: yes – limited authority
Branch of government: executive

Although territorial law establishes the Office of the Public Defender, no such entity exists. Rather, the private, non-profit Sociedad para Asistencia Legal de Puerto Rico (SAL) – created in 1955 and akin to legal aid societies in the states – provides primary public defense services in adult criminal cases. The seven members of the independent SAL Junta de Directores (Board of Directors) are selected by current board members from candidates nominated by the directors of the clinical programs of the three Puerto Rican law schools, the director of the Social Workers Association, the president of the Puerto Rico Bar Association, a representative of the Association of Relatives and Friends of Ex-Convicts and Convicts, the director of the pro bono program of the Bar Association, and the president of the College of Certified Public Accountants, as well as the last two former members of the Board of Directors.

The Rama Judicial de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Supreme Court) oversees the Abogados de Oficio, which is an assigned counsel program to provide counsel to clients where SAL has a conflict.

How the right to counsel is funded

Percentage of territorial funding: 52%
Percentage of local funding: 0%
Percentage of alternative funding: 48% (notary stamp fee on public documents)

The majority of funding for the non-profit SAL’s provision of counsel comes from the governor’s budget. However, a significant amount of funding comes through an alternative revenue source – the sale of special Legal Aid Society stamps that are required to be affixed to notarial acts such as affidavits and property transfers. The commonwealth’s Treasury Department sells the stamps and forwards the revenue on to SAL (minus a 5% administrative charge). Additionally, SAL receives approximately $700K from the Puerto Rico Justice Department to represent clients in the local Drug Courts Program.

The methods used to provide public counsel

The private, non-profit Sociedad para Asistencia Legal de Puerto Rico (SAL) provides primary public defense services. SAL has thirteen local offices, one in each judicial district (Aguadilla, Albonito, Arecibo, Bayamon, Caguas, Carolina, Fajardo, Guayama, Mayaguez, Ponce, San Juan, Utuado, and Humacao), plus two separate defender offices handling juvenile delinquency matters in San Juan and Carolina. Additionally, a central office in Río Piedras houses SAL’s administration, appellate, post-conviction, training, and legislative relations divisions. SAL is responsible for indigency determinations.

In conflict situations, SAL turns the case over to the Abogados de Oficio, which is an assigned counsel program overseen by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court. Panels of assigned counsel are administered locally within each judicial district. Attorneys provide the first 30 hours of conflict representation each year for free, in compliance with their pro bono obligation under the Puerto Rico Code of Ethics, after which they can opt to be paid a modest fee or to receive continuing legal education credits instead.

Legal authority

Puerto Rico Constitution, art. II, § 11 [en Espanol] [in English] (right to counsel)

Puerto Rico Laws Annotated, tit. 4, § 896 [en Espanol, 2016] [in English, 2012] ($5 fee on notary stamp of affidavits), and tit. 4, § 851(2) [en Espanol, 2016] [in English, 2012] ($5 fee on notary stamp of property transactions, additional $5 fee for every additional $50,000 valuation)

Source of data: original research conducted by Sixth Amendment Center staff.