What is a Public Defender?
A Public Defender is an attorney licensed by the State Bar of California who is appointed by the court to represent people who are financially unable to hire an attorney. The Public Defender ensures fair representation for those who cannot hire a private attorney.
What is the Alternate Public Defender?
The Alternate Defender’s Office provides representation for defendants whom 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”.
When both the Public Defender and the Alternate Defender are unable to represent a client because of a conflict of interest, the court will appoint other counsel.
Who does the Public Defender represent?
The Office of the Public Defender represents adults charged with a misdemeanor or felony crime or a violation of probation; and juveniles charged in the juvenile court. Public Defenders may also be appointed to represent individuals subject to proceedings related to involuntary civil mental health commitments. The Office of the Public Defender does not represent crime victims. Crime victims should contact the District Attorney’s Victim Witness Assistance Program for further information. In addition, the Office of the Public Defender is unable to represent individuals charged with infractions – offenses punishable by only a fine. However, the Office of the Public Defender does represent individuals on several driving related offenses, such as driving under the influence, reckless driving, etc. You can contact the Office for further details.
How do I get a Public Defender to represent me?
At your first court appearance there is usually a Deputy Public Defender, assigned to the court, who may be able to assist you. If you are out of custody, you will be referred to the Office of the Public Defender to complete a financial eligibility questionnaire to determine if you qualify for Public Defender representation or if you are financially able to hire a private attorney. If you are in custody the Public Defender is usually automatically appointed unless private counsel has already been retained.
How do I clear my criminal record?
The Office of the Public Defender can assist you to clear your criminal record of misdemeanors and certain felony violations. Public Defender assistance is available for Social Services clients through an agreement with the Social Services Agency. Assistance is available for individuals who are not Social Services clients provided that financial eligibility criteria for Public Defender assistance is met.
What language services are available?
The Office of the Public Defender and the Courts provide language assistance and interpreters as needed. Please contact the Office for more information.
How do I apply to work for the Office of the Public Defender?
The Office of the Public Defender offers many outstanding job opportunities. In addition to attorneys, the Office of the Public Defender has support staff including investigators, paralegals and clerks. Hiring for each of the positions is conducted on a civil service basis. For specific job information and applications please contact Employee Service Agency, County of Santa Clara. The Office of the Public Defender also has unpaid internships and law clerk positions which provide valuable experience for individuals interested in pursuing employment in the criminal justice system. Inquiries should be directed to Personnel Secretary, Office of the Public Defender, 120 West Mission Street, San Jose, CA 95110.
Am I eligible for Drug Treatment?
Proposition 36, approved by California voters in November 2000, provides offenders convicted of drug possession or drug use, with treatment instead of jail or prison time. Both first-time and repeat drug offenders are eligible to participate in the program. Some offenders who have other charges or convictions may not be eligible. Click the link below for more information on Proposition 36 and the Drug Treatment program.
What should I do if I am arrested or I believe I am under suspicion in a police investigation?
Consultation with an attorney is always the most prudent step, therefore, you should contact the Public Defender’s Office to speak with an attorney before you do or say anything else (even if charges have not yet been filed against you). Any consultation with an attorney from the Office of the Public Defender will be completely confidential. Telephone calls from any local jail are free and collect calls regarding matters pending in Santa Clara County will be accepted.