Public Defender's Office Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

If the police contact me, do I have to speak with them?

No. If you are questioned by law enforcement, it is essential to keep in mind the Miranda warnings: "You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and may be used against you in court; you have the right to an attorney before and during any questioning; if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to assist you."

State clearly but politely that you wish to have an attorney present before and during any questioning. If law enforcement continues to question you after you have requested an attorney, repeat your request for an attorney, but otherwise remain silent.

For more information, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has an excellent online article titled “ What To Do If You’re Stopped By Police,” which can be accessed at www.aclu.org/know-your-rights. (En Español) The ACLU website contains other articles which covers topics such as “Searches and Warrants,” “Stops and Arrests,” and “Prisoners’ Rights.” The articles are not a substitute for seeking qualified legal advice and the articles are intended to give a general overview of the topics covered.

What should I do if the police want to search me or my belongings?

It depends. If you are on probation or parole, your conditions of probation or parole probably require you to submit to search of your person, your personal belongings, or your place of residence to search.

If you are not on probation or parole, you should remember that law enforcement officers are under no duty to advise you of your rights before they search you or your property. While you generally have the right to refuse to be searched or have your property searched, there are situations where law enforcement can search you or your property even without your consent; for example, if they have a search warrant. If you do not consent to being searched by law enforcement, you should clearly tell the law enforcement officer that you do not want to be searched. If they have a search warrant, ask for a copy of the warrant.

What should I do if a family member or friend is arrested?

If a friend or family member is in jail, and you are trying to get helpful information, the most important thing you can tell your friend or family member is: “While you are in jail, DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE CASE with anyone. Do not talk with the police. Do not talk with other inmates. Do not talk to your friends or family over the phone about the facts of the case. Wait until you meet your lawyer to talk about the facts of your case because only conversations between you and your lawyer are confidential and protected by attorney-client privilege. Only your lawyer will be able to give you reliable advice about how to proceed with your case.

REMEMBER: ALL CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN AN INMATE AND ANYONE ELSE ARE RECORDED, with the exception of attorney-client conversations.

Are public defenders real lawyers?

Yes! All public defenders are attorneys who are members of the California State Bar and are licensed to practice law in the State of California. In order to become a public defender in the El Dorado County Public Defender’s Office, an attorney who has already passed the California State Bar examination also goes through a rigorous interview process in order to make sure that the attorney has a deep commitment to public service, as well as the intellectual ability and legal knowledge in order to practice criminal defense law in the community. The California State Bar examination is widely regarded as the most difficult to pass in the entire United States.

In addition to passing this difficult bar examination, most attorneys in our office have already practiced in other public defender offices or in other law firms. Additionally, the office makes sure that the attorneys are current in the state of the law by mandating continuing education, which they obtain both locally and by traveling to out-of-county seminars.

Will a public defender fight for me?

Tirelessly, fearlessly, and with compassion! The primary responsibility of the El Dorado County Public Defender’s Office is to provide vigorous legal representation to all persons who have been accused of criminal misconduct but are currently unable to afford to hire private defense counsel. If appointed to represent you, the Public Defender’s only loyalty is to you, our client.

How do I get a public defender to represent me if I’m in custody after I’m arrested?

If you are in custody, usually within two court days of your arrest you will be brought to a local court for what is called “the arraignment.” At this court date, tell the judge that you want a public defender to represent you. Your case will be continued to the next available pretrial court date. Prior to your next court appearance, a public defender will meet with you to explain the charges against you, to learn any important facts of the case, and to describe the court process.

How do I get a public defender to represent me if I’m out of custody after I’m arrested?

If you are not in custody after you are arrested, the jail or the law enforcement officer will give you a time and place to appear for your arraignment. At your arraignment, tell the judge you want a public defender to represent you. Your case will be continued to the next available pretrial date and the judge will order you to appear at that time.

Before your next court date, you should contact our office in order to determine which attorney will represent you. If your schedule permits, you should meet with your attorney so that your attorney can explain the charges against you, learn from you the important facts of the case, and describe the steps that lay ahead in your case.

Should I try and resolve my case without a lawyer?

It is rarely a good idea to resolve cases on your own, as there are consequences to a plea of no contest or guilty that you may not realize at the time. When you appear out of custody at your arraignment in a misdemeanor case, the judge might advise you of the charges against you and may offer a resolution of your case. However, it is usually a good idea to first speak with a criminal defense lawyer before entering a plea because there may be defenses available that you don’t know about or there may be consequences to pleading guilty that could cause you problems in the future. Don’t feel pressured into resolving your case without a lawyer. Simply tell the judge that you would like to be appointed to be represented by the Public Defender’s Office.

What happens if I'm in custody and the police want to talk to me or to place me in a lineup?

Ask to have a lawyer represent you. If you do not have the money to hire private counsel, ask to have the Public Defender’s Office present. We can appear with you. Before being questioned regarding a crime, the police must inform you that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Likewise, if the police want to place you in a lineup, you have the right to have an attorney present at the lineup. The Public Defender’s Office can provide an attorney to serve in these functions. A public defender who goes to the jail or to the station acts as your attorney in the same way as if you had retained the attorney to represent you. The attorney represents you, not the police.

How do I contact my public defender?

Call our offices in either Placerville or South Lake Tahoe and the staff member will transfer your call to your attorney’s office. If you are in the Placerville jail, we DO accept collect calls. All public defenders have voice mail, so you can leave a message if your attorney is not in the office at the time you call. Any time you have to leave a 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.

If I forget 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. Provide the receptionist with your case number, or, if you can't remember the number, provide your full name and next court date. Ordinarily, that information will be enough to help our staff determine the name of your attorney.

If I forget my court date, how do I find out when it is?

There are two ways to find out quickly. First, if you have internet access, you can search by your name on the El Dorado County Superior Court’s website, which contains calendars for the next 90 days. The website is www.eldoradocourt.org. The specific link is http://www.eldoradocourt.org/calendar.aspx.

Second, you can call the Public Defender’s Office! If you don’t know your next court date, don’t put off calling to find out. If you miss a court date, the judge can issue a warrant for your arrest or take you into custody when you do show up. If that happens, a failure to appear can actually follow you into your next case, if you have one, and can affect whether you obtain a release from jail or whether you are eligible for certain programs. Warrants are bad and to be avoided!

If I forget where the court is located, how can I find out where I'm supposed to appear?

You can search the El Dorado County Superior Court’s website, www.eldoradocourt.org, or you can call our office. Give your name and case number to the support person who answers the phone and our staff will be able to tell you the precise location of your particular court and give you directions on how to get there.

What is Bail?

"Bail" is the amount of money that a defendant or someone on his/her behalf must pay in order for the defendant to be released from jail. It is intended to assure the court that the defendant will appear at his/her future court dates.

What is an "O.R."?

If you are released on an "O.R,” or “own recognizance,” you are being released on your personal promise to appear in the future without having to post bail. If you are released on an O.R., the judge may impose conditions of your release, such as Alcoholics Anonymous meeting attendance or a curfew.

When will the judge set bail and/or consider an O.R. release?

If you are in custody at your arraignment the judge will set the bail amount according to the County’s bail schedule and in light of the circumstances of your background and the conduct with which you are charged. The El Dorado County bail schedule can be accessed online at www.eldoradocourt.org, under “Filing Fees” on the left of the Home page.

Remember that the bail schedule is a guideline and the actual bail set may deviate from the schedule, depending on the seriousness of the alleged crime(s), your past history, or prior failures to appear in court. Sometimes, the judge will O.R. you at your arraignment. When you appear with your public defender after arraignment, you are entitled to ask the court to lower the previously set bail amount and/or to release you on your own recognizance. Your lawyer will discuss this with you.

What is a "plea bargain"?

Prior to the trial of your case, your attorney will usually discuss your case with the deputy district attorney assigned to handle the case. The deputy district attorney will typically offer a "plea bargain" to resolve your case without a trial. This often means pleading guilty or no contest to fewer or less serious charges than those pending against you, for an agreed upon sentence.

The decision to accept a pretrial offer or go to trial is perhaps the most difficult decision a defendant can make in a criminal case. This office is committed to providing you all of the necessary information and advice that we can, in order to help you make the best decision you can.

In the end, the decision to accept an offer and end your case without a trial or to fight your case at trial is yours and yours alone. It is important to remember that all public defenders are experienced, skilled and effective trial lawyers. If you wish to go to trial, you can be sure that you will get vigorous representation from a dedicated advocate.

If I get convicted after a misdemeanor or felony trial, can I appeal?

Yes. Defendants who have been convicted after a misdemeanor or felony trial have the right to appeal their conviction. This process is started by the trial attorney who, upon request of the client, will file a notice of appeal in the trial. A lawyer who specializes in appeals will then be appointed to represent you in your appeal. These appellate lawyers are not employees of the Public Defender’s Office. However, your public defender will provide your appellate lawyer with all the information from your case, in order to assist you with your appeal.

How do I find out if there is a bench warrant for my arrest?

If you are already represented by a public defender on the case, call the office where your case is pending and give the support staff your case number, or your full name. That information will be enough to determine whether there is a warrant for your arrest.

If you wish to “clear” the warrant, you can request our assistance in placing the matter back on calendar. We also can accompany you to court, in some circumstances. It is far better to work with your attorney to clear the bench warrant than to ignore the warrant and take your chances.

It is usually very helpful to be prepared to explain why you failed to appear in court. If there is any written record (such as a letter from your doctor or your employer) which may help to explain your absence, the judge might consider giving you another chance rather than putting you into custody.

Will the Public Defender's Office represent me if I am a citizen of another country?

Yes! The Office of the Public Defender will represent you in your criminal case, regardless of your citizenship status.

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. We have Spanish-speaking staff members who can assist with Spanish-speaking client or witnesses. 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.

Does the Public Defender’s Office have investigators who will work on my case?

Yes! The office has a staff of highly trained and experienced investigators. Their job is to track down any witnesses and obtain any evidence that might prove a client's innocence or demonstrate a weakness in the prosecutor's case. Not infrequently, it is due to the work by a dedicated Public Defender investigator that an innocent client is released from custody. Other times, the investigator’s work helps to obtain lighter sentences for clients.

Will what I say to a Public Defender Investigator be kept confidential?

The attorney-client privilege concerns the confidential communication between lawyer and client which 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..

Will the Public Defender represent me in a civil case?

No, the Public Defender only represents persons subject to criminal prosecution, LPS conservatorships, probate conservatorships, juvenile criminal cases, specialty courts such as Behavioral Health Court or Veteran’s Court, and some contempt citations.

In all other cases, the Public Defender does not represent individuals in civil cases nor can our Office recommend any particular attorney or law firm. The El Dorado County Bar Association maintains a list of local attorneys, at www.eldoradocountyattorneys.org or call (530) 626-5152.

How can I contact someone who is incarcerated in El Dorado County?

If a friend or family member is incarcerated at the El Dorado County jail and you wish to visit them, send them money, enable them to call you, or correspond with them, you should visit the website for the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department, as they operate the jail facilities. The website is http://www.edcgov.us/Sheriff/

REMEMBER: ALL CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN AN INMATE AND ANYONE ELSE ARE RECORDED, with the exception of attorney-client conversations. DO NOT EVER SPEAK WITH AN INMATE ABOUT ANYTHING HAVING TO DO WITH THEIR CASE!

Can I still vote if I have a criminal conviction?

It depends. If you have a misdemeanor conviction, you can still vote. A misdemeanor does not affect your right to vote. If you have a felony conviction, so long as you are not currently in prison or on parole or post-release community supervision, you can vote. You can vote if you are on felony probation. If you are in prison, on parole, or on any post-release community supervision, once you complete your sentence, parole, or supervision, your voting rights are automatically restored. However, you still need to fill out a voter registration card in order to be able to vote. You have to register to vote at least 15 days before Election Day.

Can I still vote if I am in jail?

Yes, even if you are in jail, you are eligible to vote as long as you meet the following Voter Registration Requirements:
  • Are a citizen of the United States; Are a resident of California; Are at least 18 years of age or older as of Election Day;
  • Have registered to vote at least fifteen (15) days prior to Election Day (the most important step);
  • Are awaiting trial or on trial for any crime;
  • Are in jail for a misdemeanor;
  • Are on probation, even if you are in jail as a condition of your probation;
  • Are awaiting a judge’s decision on a probation violation.
If you meet the above requirements, you have the right to vote! For more detailed information on your voting rights, visit http://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights-california-voter-information.