Orange County Public Defender
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 the court is open, that will review the sheet, and make a recommendation to the judge as to whether or not you qualify for a public defender based upon your financial situation. 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?
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 actually may be 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?
Not if you are not financially able to explore other options. A public defender is a full attorney, licensed by the state bar of California.
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?
If you have an assigned public defender for your case, they will give you contact information.
In general, 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
801 Civic Center Drive West, Suite 300
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Phone: (657) 251-6460
FAX: (714) 541-7912
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