About Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez

Public Defender Carlos Martinez

Carlos J. Martinez has dedicated his professional life to public service, using his legal talents in service of the poor. He arrived to Miami from Cuba on a 1969 Freedom Flight. Carlos learned the meaning of hard work and determination at an early age. Since he was 10 years old until he began working at gas stations, Carlos often helped his dad, Celedonio, after school. Carlos would mop floors and clean the Little Havana church where his father worked as a maintenance man and where his mother, Yara, was the church’s receptionist.

Carlos credits his parents and his religious upbringing for his passion for social justice and for helping the poor. “I am living my American dream. I am doing something I love. I am fortunate to work in an office with highly dedicated individuals where we can help people who are less fortunate and whose freedom and future well-being is in jeopardy. By serving as the Public Defender, I’m honoring my mother and father’s values and the sacrifices they made for us to live and prosper in a free country.”

At 16, Carlos was hired as a car wash attendant at an Exxon station. Within three years, Carlos was simultaneously managing six gas stations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. He worked full-time to pay for his undergraduate college education. He attended Miami Dade College, the University of Texas-Austin and graduated from Florida International University with a B.A. in Political Science in 1985. In 1990, Carlos received his J.D. from the University of Miami.

Carlos represented indigent clients at the trial and appellate level in Miami-Dade, Florida and Bellingham, Washington. Before becoming the Public Defender, Carlos was a top administrator in the Public Defender’s office for 12 years and led litigation efforts, designed and implemented management and legal reforms, and drafted legislation and grant proposals.

He was elected public defender in 2008, and re-elected in 2012, 2016 and 2020 without opposition. Carlos is the first Cuban-American Public Defender and the only elected Hispanic public defender in the U.S. As public defender, Carlos manages an office of about 400 employees, handling approximately 65,000 cases each year.

“Fighting for individual rights and equal justice, for the downtrodden, the despised, the voiceless and the invisible, has not just given me great professional satisfaction, it has given meaning to my life,” Carlos said.

Carlos created volunteer initiatives such as the “Redemption Project” (helping former clients regain their civil and employment rights), “Play It Smart” (teaching young people how to interact with law enforcement), “Consequences Aren’t Minor” (educating adolescents and adults about the direct and collateral consequences of illegal behavior and arrest), the Equal Justice Roundtable (a faith community collaboration to address social injustice and improve public safety), a statewide public defender management training program, and Juvenile Justice CPR (Charting a Path to Redemption), a legal reform initiative designed to help troubled kids achieve the American dream. Carlos led the statewide effort to ban the indiscriminate shackling of detained children in juvenile courts. He has worked tirelessly to address the crisis of minority children being cycled from the schoolhouse to the jail house, and to protect the confidentiality of juvenile records.

Honors & Awards

  • MCCJ Humanitarian Silver Medallion Award recipient (February 2022)
  • President of the bipartisan Florida Public Defender Association (2022-2024)
  • Dade County Bar Association Criminal Justice Award (October 2019)
  • The Florida Public Defender Association, President’s award (July 2019)
  • The Children’s Trust Champions for Children, Excellence in Public Policy Award (2018)
  • Gay8 Festival, Pa’Lante Award (2018)
  • The School Board of Miami-Dade County, Public Service Recognition (2017)
  • Latino Justice PRLDEF, Community Champion (2017)
  • Inductee, Children of Inmates League of Superheroes (2017)
  • University of Miami School of Law, Society of Bar and Gavel’s Alumni Leadership Award (2017)
  • University of Miami School of Law, Inter-American Law Review’s Lawyer of the Americas Award (2017)
  • South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Lifetime Achievement Award (2016)
  • St. John Community Development Corporation, Exemplary Public Service Award (2016)
  • Florida’s Children First, Child Advocate Of the Year Award (2016)
  • Theodore R. Gibson Memorial Fund, Commitment to Diversity, Honoree (2015)
  • The Florida Public Defender Association, President’s award (2015)
  • The Minority Chamber of Commerce, “Citizen of the Year Award” (2013)
  • University of Miami Law's Center for Ethics and Public Service, Lawyers in Leadership Award (2012)
  • Kiwanis of Coral Gables Freedom Award (2012)
  • Spanish American League Against Discrimination (SALAD), Distinguished Service Recognition (2012)
  • Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Award (2010)
  • Phi Alpha Delta, Law Fraternity International, Rasco Chapter, Alumni of the Year Award (2010)
  • Florida’s Children First, Children’s Advocate Award (2009)
  • University of Miami Law Alumni Association, Alumni Achievement Award (2009)
  • Colegio de Abogados de La Habana, Ignacio Agramonte Loynaz Award (2009)
  • Dade County Bar Association, the Robert L. Shevin Public Service Award (2009)
  • The Richmond Heights’ Crime Watch Award (2009)
  • Inductee, Miami-Dade College Alumni Hall of Fame (2009)
  • Recipient, FIU Distinguished Alumni Torch Award for the College of Law (2009)
  • Vice president of the bi-partisan Florida Public Defender Association (FPDA) (2006-2007)
  • FPDA, Craig Stewart Barnard Award for Outstanding Service (2006)
  • Florida Supreme Court, Chief Justice’s commendation for dedicated service (2004)
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami, dedicated service award (2004)
  • Dade County Bar Association Pro Bono Project, public service award (2003)
  • Juvenile Justice Board, 11th Judicial Circuit, Florida, exemplary service as board chair (2002)
  • Florida Bar Commission, Legal Needs of Children, 4 years’ dedicated service (2002)
  • Dade Miami Criminal Justice Council, for diligent service, support and commitment (2002)
  • Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government, member, Executive Sessions on Public Defense (1999-2001)
  • University of Miami, Iron Arrow Honor Society (inducted 1989)

Activities & Memberships

State, Local, National and International Activities and Memberships (past and present)
  • Supreme Court of Florida’s Judicial Circuit Assessment Committee Member (2023)
  • Miami-Dade Public Safety Coordinating Council, Chair (2023)
  • Florida Department of Children and Families’ Criminal Justice, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Reinvestment Grant Program, Committee Member
  • Miami-Dade County Driver’s License Suspension Task Force, Task Force Member
  • Thriving Mind, Honorary Board Member
  • The Florida Bar Board of Governors (non-voting representative for Government Lawyers)
    • Legislation Committee
    • Review Committee on Professional Ethics
  • American Bar Association
    • Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense (SCLAID)
    • Indigent Defense Advisory Group, Chair
  • Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Executive Session on Rethinking the Role of the Prosecutor in the Community
  • University of Miami School of Law National Advisory Committee
  • Florida Public Defender Association, Inc.
    • Legislation Committee, Chair
  • National Association for Public Defense
    • Executive Committee
    • Steering Committee, Vice-Chair
Juvenile Justice
  • Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Zero Tolerance Task Force Member
  • Florida Blueprint Commission on Juvenile Justice
  • The Florida Bar, Commission on the Legal Needs of Children, Chair, Representation Subcommittee; Standing Committee on the Legal Needs of Children, Chair & Vice Chair
  • Florida Supreme Court Committees, Appointed by Three Chief Justices: Families and Children in the Court; Treatment-Based Drug Court Steering Committee; and Children’s Leadership Forum
  • Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Detention Risk Assessment Committee
  • Florida Public Defender Association, Inc., Chair & Co-Chair Juvenile Justice Committee
  • The Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment, Honorary Board Member
  • City of Miami Police Department, Do The Right Thing Program, Board Member
  • National Juvenile Defender Center, Investigator, Assessment of Access to Counsel and Quality of Representation in Juvenile Delinquency Proceedings in Florida
  • Juvenile Justice Board, 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida, Chair
  • Unified Family Court Advisory Board, 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida
  • Public Defender’s Juvenile Justice CPR (Charting a Path to Redemption)
Child Advocacy and Mentoring
  • 5000 Role Models of Excellence
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami, Mentor for five years
  • Florida’s Children First, Board of Directors
  • Miami Senior High School Legal and Public Affairs Magnet Program, Advisory Committee
  • Law Enforcement Officers Memorial High School, Advisory Committe
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of Whatcom County, Washington, Board of Directors
Technical Assistance to Public Defender Offices
  • Technical assistance and training teams to the Honduran National Office of Public Defense, and the Public Defender Offices in Schenectady County (NY), San Bernardino County (CA), Maricopa County (Phoenix, AZ), and Marion County (Indianapolis, IN)
  • University of Miami School of Law National Advisory Council
  • Representation Subcommittee of The Florida Bar’s Commission on the Legal Needs of Children
  • Supreme Court of Florida Steering Committee on Drug Courts
  • Steering Committee on Families and Children
  • National Institute of Corrections’ National Advisory Committee on Evidence Based Decision Making for Local Criminal Justice Systems
  • Florida Blueprint Commission on Juvenile Justice and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Zero Tolerance Task Force
Drug Courts
  • Trainer and presenter in Chile, Dominican Republic and Mexico
  • National Association of Drug Court Professionals, Drug Court Standards Committee; COPS/Community Courts Linkages Committee; Panelist, The Drug Court Team (1995); Panelist, Dealing with Change in Existing Drug Courts (1996)
  • Justice Management Institute, Faculty and Facilitator, Drug Courts (1995, 1996, 1999)

  • Numerous appearances before Florida Legislature on various substantive and appropriations matters
  • Drafted legislation and amendments, including student loan repayment assistance, revision 7 to Article V, indiscriminate shackling of children, blended sentencing, sealing and expungement of records, confidentiality and juvenile waiver of counsel
  • Florida House of Representatives, Panelist, Revision 7 to Article V of Florida Constitution, Select Committee on Article V
  • Dade Miami Criminal Justice Council, Chair, Legislation Ad Hoc Committee
  • Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Crime and Drug Prevention Subcommittee, Legislative Committee Co-chair
  • Juvenile Justice Board, Legislative Committee Co-chair
Management Training
  • Florida Public Defender Association, Organizer, Faculty and Facilitator, Executive Management Training
  • National Defender Leadership Institute, Faculty and Facilitator, Building Leadership and Political Outreach Skills, New Leadership Conference; Nuts and Bolts of Leadership and Management
  • Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, Faculty and Facilitator, Nuts and Bolts of Managing and Leading a Public Interest Law Office
Professional Memberships
  • American Bar Association
  • Criminal Justice Council
  • Co-Chair, Criminal Justice Section Defense Function Committee
  • American Council of Chief Defenders
  • Co-Chair, Best Practices Committee
  • Caseload Standards Task Force
  • DOJ Conference Curriculum Development working group
  • American Inns of Court
  • Spellman-Hoeveler Chapter, Board of Directors
  • Caribbean Bar Association
  • Cuban American Bar Association
  • Dade County Bar Association
  • Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Statewide Chapter Representative
  • Pro Bono and Public Defender Liaison Committee
  • Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Miami Chapter Board of Directors
  • Florida Public Defender Association, Inc., President, Legislation, Article V, Training, Futures and Audit Committees
  • Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Bar Association
  • Haitian Lawyers Association
  • Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Member, Executive Sessions on Public Defense
  • Hispanic National Bar Association
  • Miami Beach Bar Association
  • National Association for Public Defense
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • National Legal Aid and Defender Association
  • Puerto Rican Bar Association
  • South Miami Kendall Bar Association
  • Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Bar Association


  • He recently co-authored an article on Prosecution and Public Defense: The Prosecutor’s Role in Securing A Meaningful Right to an Attorney
  • Helping Adolescents Succeed: Assuring a Meaningful Right to Counsel, for the book “A New Juvenile Justice System Total Reform for a Broken System,” New York University Press, Edited by Nancy E. Dowd (2015)
  • Immigration Consequences: Thousand of Cuban Exiles in Jeopardy, CABA Briefs (2015)
  • You Are The Last Lawyer They Will Ever See Before Exile: Padilla V. Kentucky And One Indigent Defender Office’s Account Of Creating A Systematic Approach To Providing Immigration Advice In Times Of Tight Budgets And High Caseloads, 39 Fordham Urb. L.J. (2011), co-authored with George C. Palaidis and Sarah Wood Borak
  • The Joy of (Public) Defending: Testimonials, Book Chapter, Careers in Criminal Justice, ABA, Edited by Ellen C. Brotman (2010)
  • El Modelo NorteAmericano de Defensa Publica, Book Chapter, Conozca a Estados Unidos de America, Edited by Carlos Perez and Ana Curnow (2008)
  • Challenging Shackling of Juveniles in Court, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, Community Oriented Defender Network Newsletter, Vol. 2, Issue 1 (July 2007)
  • Why are Children in Florida Treated as Enemy Combatants?, 29 NATIONAL LEGAL AID AND DEFENDER ASSOCIATION (NLADA) CORNERSTONE No.1, May/Aug. 2007
  • The Best Defense Is No Offense: Preventing Crime Through Effective Public Defense, 29 NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, REVIEW OF LAW & SOCIAL CHANGE 57 (2004), co-authored with Mark H. Moore, Michael P. Judge, Leonard Noisette
  • Representation Subcommittee Final Report (2002), The Florida Bar Commission on Legal Needs of Children, co-written as chair of the Representation Sub-committee
  • Defining Drug Court: The Key Components (1997), The National Association of Drug Court Standards Committee, co-written as committee member