Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

It's best to have a skilled attorney guide you through the criminal justice process. In the words of the United States Supreme Court: "Lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries." (Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) 372 U.S. 335, at 345.) Having an attorney is so important that, if you're accused of a crime and can't afford to hire a private attorney, the court will appoint a Public Defender attorney to represent you. A criminal conviction can result in jail, prison, fines, or fees. Additionally, a criminal conviction can affect a person's immigration situation, employment opportunities, voting rights, firearm rights, access to student loans, public housing, and ability to get a professional license. There is often a lot at stake when you're accused of a crime. Talking to an attorney is the responsible thing to do.

A “public defender” is a licensed attorney who works for the Office of the Public Defender. When the court appoints the Public Defender to represent an accused person, we assign a defense team, including an attorney, to represent that person and support them in reaching the best outcome. A Public Defender attorney has the same obligations as a private attorney to zealously defend each client, maintain client confidences, and provide skilled representation. The Santa Cruz County Public Defender recruits talented, skilled defenders who are dedicated to providing exceptional, client-centered defense. Our lawyers, investigators, social workers, paralegals, advocates, and administrative staff work together to support our clients.

If you cannot afford to hire a private attorney to represent you, the court likely will appoint the Public Defender to represent you at your first court date. An attorney will be there in court to explain the charges against you and advise you of next steps. Although every situation is different, it’s generally best to talk to an attorney before talking to anyone from law enforcement about your case.

At your first court date, a judge will appoint the Public Defender if you are in custody or if you tell them that you cannot afford to hire a private attorney. The judge may ask you about your finances, either by talking to you about it or by having you fill out a form. The judge will look at your income and your expenses to determine whether you qualify for the Public Defender.

Contact our office and ask for your attorney by name or ask the person who answers the phone to look up your attorney and provide you with their contact information.

The Public Defender represents adults charged with misdemeanor or felony crimes or violations of probation, parole, or post-release community supervision, juveniles charged with delinquency, and people charged in certain civil matters that put their liberty at stake, such as contempt proceedings and involuntary mental health commitments. The Public Defender does not represent crime victims. The Public Defender does not represent people charged with infractions, which are offenses punishable by only a fine. If you are not sure whether you qualify for the Public Defender, contact us for more information.

The Public Defender handles cases ranging from simple misdemeanors to complex felonies, including death penalty cases. We also represent clients in mental health proceedings involving loss of liberty and children charged with juvenile delinquency.

When someone you care about is in trouble, it is understandable to want to help. Since every situation is different, you should start by asking your loved one what they need from you. If the Public Defender represents your loved one, you should know that we have a duty of confidentiality to our clients. We do not talk to anyone about our clients or their cases without permission.

Public Defender defense teams, including attorneys, investigators, paralegals, social workers, advocates, and administrative staff, have a duty of confidentiality to their clients. Our attorneys do not talk to anyone about clients or cases without a client specifically giving permission. If your loved one’s attorney will not talk to you, it may be because they don’t have permission. You should also keep in mind that an attorney’s first obligation is to their clients, and not to other people who might be interested in talking to them about a case.