Common Client Questions
Q: How do I get a public defender to represent me in a case?
A: If you have been arrested and charged with a criminal offense or received a summons in the mail, you must come in person to the Office of the Public Defender to apply for legal services.
When you come to the office, you should bring these documents with you:
- The criminal complaint or summons you received;
- Verification of income.
To verify your income, you should bring with you:
- Your last 4 pay stubs;
- Proof of SSI or other government support or your Access card.
If you are not employed, not receiving public assistance and not receiving some kind of government support, you should bring a letter from the relative or friend who is supporting you now.
After we have determined that you are charged with an offense covered by the Public Defender Act and that you are not financially able to hire a private attorney, you will be interviewed about the new charges and you will have the opportunity to speak with a lawyer about your case.
If you are in jail because of these new charges, you will be automatically interviewed by one of our paralegals, usually within 48 hours of your arrest.
Q: When do I meet my attorney?
A: If you are released on bond, you will be able to speak with an attorney at the time of your intake interview. If you are in custody because of these charges, you will be interviewed in the jail prior to your preliminary hearing.
Q: What happens at the preliminary hearing?
A: At a preliminary hearing the prosecutor must show that there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against you and take you to trial. In most cases you will not testify at your preliminary hearing. Because the magistrate at your hearing does not have the authority to resolve all legal issues in your case, you will not present a defense at this stage. It is your opportunity to learn what evidence the prosecution has against you. After this, you will need time to organize and prove any defense you may have.
Q: What if my charges are held for court?
A: If your charges are held for court, you will be given a date to appear for formal arraignment. At that time you will learn the final charges filed against you by the district attorney and be able to review the evidence they have against you. After that, you will be scheduled for a pre-trial conference. At that time you will advise the court on how you wish to proceed and you will have a trial date scheduled.
Q: Will my attorney be experienced enough to handle my case?
A: Attorneys in the Office of the Public Defender have wide range of experience. A significant number of our attorneys have been practicing in the Criminal Division for 20 years or more. These attorneys are constantly sharing their knowledge and experience with others on our staff. The newer attorneys in our office have also received specialized training related to particular areas of office practice. Every attorney has also demonstrated the ability to competently fulfill the duties which have been assigned.
Q: What should I do if I don't qualify for Public Defender services?
A: If you do not qualify for Public Defender services because you exceed the income guidelines or because your case is not authorized by the Public Defender Act, you should contact the Lawyer Referral Service of the Allegheny County Bar Association at 412-261-5555.
Q: What if I am able to hire my own attorney?
A: If you are financially able to hire your own attorney, you are encouraged to do so immediately. Our services are limited to people who cannot afford counsel on their own.