Public Defender

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Public Defender Orange County

Public Defender Orange County

A public defender is available in Orange County as a lawyer for those that are indigent or cannot afford legal counsel.  The purpose is to make sure that the rights, and defenses, of all people accused of a crime, are protected.

Can I get a Public Defender for my Orange County DUI case?

The only appropriate answer for everyone this question is relevant to is, “maybe“.  But it might be helpful to find out how, from the court’s point of view, how the decision whether or not to grant someone the public defender, is made.

What is the procedure to get a public defender?

You cannot be appointed the public defender before your first court date, in a DUI case, your Orange County DUI Arraignment.  At your arraignment, you must request a public defender to have one actually be appointed for you in your case.

From there, the court bailiff will typically hand you a “Financial Data Sheet”.  This sheet asks about your income and your expenses.  Many people ask me about filling out the form, and your expenses are supposed to be an average of the last 12 months, since many expenses, like food, gasoline, and utilities, are often variable.

The sheet will then ask you about public benefits.  It is important that you disclose any income from Veteran’s Benefits, Federal or State Student Aid, Welfare or WIC, Disability Benefits, or any type of public benefit.  The reason why this is important is that under the current Orange County guidelines, qualifying for any of these other programs makes you automatically qualified for the public defender, subject to the court’s approval. Being a veteran also may qualify you for OC veteran’s court.

In the Orange County courthouse in Fullerton, and in the OC Santa Ana courthouse, you will typically be asked in a misdemeanor case to bring your financial data sheet and take it down the hall to the Bar Panel Office.  That office is staffed by a private attorney, a different one every day, that will review the sheet, and make a recommendation to the judge as to whether or not you qualify for a public defender.  They can also offer free legal advice and can answer your questions about the court process, the facts of your case, and your defenses, or the procedure or punishment for DUI cases in Orange County.

In the Orange County courthouse in Westminster, and at the Harbor Justice Center courthouse in Newport Beach, the court may not mention the bar panel at all or may give you a list of attorneys to contact privately, and come back with a recommendation.

Is a Public Defender free in my Orange County court case?

Orange County PD office

You may be surprised that you can be asked to pay back the services of the public defender.  At the end of every case, the judge will hold a hearing and may require that you file another financial information sheet to analyze whether or not your situation has changed, and whether or not you should be asked to pay the services of the public defender as part of your sentence.

As a result, you could think that you are obtaining a free lawyer, but are actually ordered to pay for that lawyer at the end of the case.

Are there any reasons why I may not want to have a public defender?

There are a few reasons why you may not want to have a public defender.  A public defender is a fully licensed attorney, with the same education as other lawyers. However, with misdemeanors like DUIs, some, but not all, public defenders are new and have little experience specific to DUI.  In fact, the OC Public Defender’s Office has very little extensive training in DUI breath testing or DUI blood testing for their lawyers.

Unfortunately, the County of Orange, like many counties and jurisdictions across the nation, overloads the public defenders in courtrooms, and it’s not unusual for a public defender to handle 40-50 cases a day.  That often leaves very little time for handling more complex aspects of the case, writing motions in the case, or handling the questions and guidance that a client would prefer.

Since the DMV hearing in a DUI case is a very important component of a DUI case, as it affects your driving privileges, you should also know that a public defender will not handle that part of the case for you.  Since it is considered a civil administrative proceeding, the PD is not available to handle DMV hearings.

How can I contact my public defender?

You may not be assigned a specific public defender for your case.  The Orange County Public Defender’s office rotates individual lawyers through trials, depending on who is up for trial next.  As a result, whoever is in court on your court date is “your” public defender, and that may change day to day.

Contact information for the various public defender offices in Orange County appear below:

Main Public Defender Office, Santa Ana (shown above)

14 Civic Center Plaza,
Santa Ana, CA 92701,
Phone: (714) 834-2144
FAX: (714) 834-2729

General Info Email: PDInfo@pubdef.ocgov.com
For immediate assistance, please call (714) 834-2144 during regular business hours (Mon thru Fri 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM).

Central Justice Center, Santa Ana

600 W. Santa Ana Blvd., Suite 1000
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Phone: (714) 568-4860
FAX: (714) 568-4875
Toll Free: (866) 572-7271

North Justice Center, Fullerton

1440 Harbor Blvd. 4th Floor
Fullerton, CA 92835
Phone: (714) 626-3700
FAX: (714) 626-3749
Toll Free: (877) 484-7788

West Justice Center, Westminster

14120 Beach Blvd., Suite 200
Westminster, CA 92683-4593
Phone: (714) 896-7281
FAX: (714) 896-7368
Toll Free: (866) 634-6225

Harbor Justice Center, Newport Beach

4601 Jamboree Road, Suite 101
Newport Beach, CA 92680-2527
Phone: (949) 476-4888
FAX: (949) 476-4676
Toll Free: (866) 634-6221

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