Offices of the Public Defender Services | Orange County Public Defender, CA (2022)

How do I obtain the services of a public defender?

In most cases deputy public defenders are appointed by the court. If you are charged with a crime and cannot afford to hire an attorney, ask the court to appoint a public defender at your first appearance before a judge. You may be asked to submit a financial declaration to determine eligibility. If you have questions about whether you need a public defender or qualify for one, call any of the branch offices listed on this website. Generally, the person seeking our representation must be indigent. This means that they are without the resources to hire their own attorney.

In juvenile delinquency cases we represent the minor without regard to the indigency of the young person. In mental health cases we represent the subject of the detention or conservatorship application without regard to the resources of that individual, as required by statute.

What type of cases does the Public Defender’s Office handle?

We represent people charged with felony or misdemeanor crimes and violations of probation and/or parole supervision. We represent children who have cases in Juvenile Delinquency Court, and parents with cases in the Juvenile Dependency Court when the court may consider taking custody of the children due to issues in the home. We also represent people who are being involuntarily detained due to alleged mental illness or who need a guardian to care for them. We do not generally represent people charged with infractions, such as traffic tickets.

Who is the Alternate Defender?

The County of Orange has established the office of the Alternate Public Defender to provide legal representation for defendants charged in criminal cases that the Public Defender cannot represent. This may occur, for example, when the Public Defender’s office already represents another defendant accused in the same case, or the defendant happens to be a witness against another public defender client in a separate case. This is called a "conflict of interest."

The Public Defender can only represent one person in those types of cases since each person charged with a crime is entitled to have their own lawyer devoted to protecting their interests in the case. If the other person or persons are indigent, the court must appoint other counsel to represent them and that is typically an Alternate Public Defender.

Who pays for the Public Defender? [Is the Public Defender free?]

When your criminal case ends, if you have been represented by appointed counsel such as the Public Defender's Office, the judge may conduct a hearing to determine whether or not you have the present ability to pay all -- or a portion of -- the costs of your court-appointed attorney. At this hearing, depending upon your income and expenses, the judge may order you to pay for the cost of the services of your attorney, some of the cost -- or none. If the judge determines you have the ability to pay some or all of the costs, you will be ordered to pay according to your financial situation. If you cannot afford to pay, you will not be required to do so.

In Juvenile Court cases, the family of the client may be assessed for the costs of the Public Defender service using a similar process as described above.

Are public defenders (real) lawyers?

Yes. All deputy public defenders are lawyers licensed to practice law by the California State Bar. Orange County Deputy Public Defenders are widely recognized as among the best criminal defense lawyers in the county because of their experience and training.

Although all California lawyers are required to continue their legal education, the Orange County Public Defender makes sure that his lawyers are continually trained and current in the law by offering extensive and specialized in-house training covering everything from how to try a misdemeanor case to death penalty defense strategies. They are also encouraged to regularly attend training with organizations specializing in all of the areas that they practice.

Will the public defender talk with my family or friends about my case?
Not without your permission. Everything you tell us, or what we learn from working on your case, is kept confidential. We may need to talk with your family to help you on your case, but we will only share what information you authorize us to. We may also advise you not to talk to others about your case, not even family or friends.

How can you defend someone you know is guilty?

Every person charged by the government is entitled to zealous representation. When we ensure even and fair justice for someone who is accused of a crime, we are protecting the rights of all citizens. We believe that criminal defense lawyers are constitutional defense lawyers. We are the last line of defense between the individual rights and liberty of all citizens and misguided overzealous exercise of untold power by our government. If it weren't for criminal defense attorneys tirelessly challenging the power of the government to intrude into individuals' lives, no one would be safe from unreasonable government intrusion. Our mission includes making sure that the Government doesn't overcharge or over punish a guilty client or engage in abuses of power-- as much as it is to see that it doesn't convict an innocent one. But/for daily aggressive and effective advocacy in each and every case, the integrity of our system of justice would be in grave jeopardy. A defense lawyer's belief in a client's guilt or innocence is totally irrelevant. That determination is the job of the judge or jury under our adversarial system of justice.

As Thomas Jefferson stated: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”.

Will the public defender represent me if I am a citizen of another country?

Yes, the Office of the Public Defender is available to represent you, regardless of your citizenship status. The Office of the Public Defender will also provide you with accurate information regarding the possible immigration consequences from any potential resolution of your case.

If my English is limited, can I get an interpreter to assist me?

Yes, whenever necessary, your public defender will obtain the assistance of an interpreter. An interpreter will be made available for interviews, consultations, and court proceedings. A substantial number of our attorneys, clerical staff, and investigators are fluent in Spanish and other languages. In court, an official court interpreter will be obtained for whichever language or dialect is needed for you to be able to clearly communicate and understand everything that is going on in your case.

Will my public defender fight for me?

Yes. Exhaustively, aggressively, and with compassion. Our primary responsibility is to provide excellent, high quality and vigorous legal representation for you. We believe in fighting for you in court, litigating aggressively, and providing services and support that help you succeed once your case is concluded. If appointed to represent you, the Public Defender’s only loyalty is to you, our client.

How do I contact my public defender?

Call any of our offices and the receptionist will connect you to your lawyer’s office. You can find the numbers for our offices on the locations page of this site.

The best times to reach your attorney are usually early in the morning and late in the business day because they are in court most of the day. If an attorney is not immediately available you can leave a message asking for your Deputy Public Defender to return your call as soon as possible. If you feel your matter is urgent, be sure to say so when you call any Public Defender office.

All public defenders have voice mail, so you can leave a message there as well. Anytime you have to leave a telephone message for your attorney, always remember to speak slowly and clearly. Leave your complete name, your case number if you know it, your next court date, a telephone number, and the best time for your attorney to contact you.

I forgot the name of my public defender. How can I find out who is representing me?

Call the Public Defender's Office where your case is pending. You can find the numbers for our offices on the locations page of this site. Provide the receptionist with your case number, or -- if you can't remember the number -- provide your full name and date of birth. Ordinarily, that information alone will be enough to help our staff determine the name of your attorney. The receptionist will then connect you to the attorney’s office or, if you prefer, take a message for you.

Does the public defender have investigators that will help investigate my case?
Yes. The Offices of the Public Defender have a staff of highly trained and experienced investigators. Their job is to track down any witnesses and obtain any physical evidence that might prove a client's innocence or demonstrate a weakness in the prosecutor's case. Often it is the work of a dedicated Public Defender investigator that helps earn an innocent client release from custody. Other times, the investigator’s work helps to obtain lighter sentences for individuals who have been convicted.

Will what I tell the public defender investigator be kept confidential?

Yes. The attorney-client privilege requires that the confidential communication between lawyer and client cannot be disclosed to anyone without the consent of the client. This same privilege extends to ALL employees of the Public Defender's Office, including investigators.

Does the Public Defender assist people with immigration issues?

No, the public defender’s office does not appear in immigration matters. However, if you have a criminal case, your lawyer will help you understand the impacts of that case on your immigration status. It is always important that you consult with a lawyer who knows and specializes in immigration law with any concerns you may have about your status.

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