President John F. Kennedy in his State of the Union Address on January 14, 1963 asserted that the “right to competent counsel must be assured to every man accused of crime in federal court, regardless of his means.” In March of 1963 in the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court established that the Sixth Amendment’s “right to counsel” guaranteed legal representation to every American charged with a criminal offense, even if the person could not afford to pay for a lawyer.
In partial response to the decision in Gideon, Congress passed the Criminal Justice Act of 1964. After further study, the Federal Defender system was created by amendment to the Criminal Justice Act in 1970. That amendment paved the way for the system we have today, with Federal Defender offices representing most defendants and a panel of private attorneys compensated hourly where the Defender is in conflict or at capacity. The Office of the Federal Public Defender was created to fulfill the constitutional requirement that indigents charged with crimes in the federal justice system be provided with professional legal representation at little or no cost. Congress funds the Offices of the Federal Public Defender through the Defender Services Division of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.
Federal criminal cases in Alaska were originally handled by the Seattle office of the Western Washington District Federal Defender. The Alaska Office of the Federal Public Defender was officially established in Anchorage in 1992.
In 1996, F. Richard (“Rich”) Curtner was appointed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to a four year term as the Federal Defender for Alaska. Rich was reappointed to additional terms commencing in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. Rich works with five Assistant Federal Defenders in the Anchorage home office, plus he oversees support staff including three full time investigators. The office is responsible for providing indigent defense services in federal court for all of Alaska.