7 Questions You Should Ask Your Public Defender Before Deciding on a Plea

After 16 years of real criminal courtroom work, I’ve started to realize that there is a common pattern with Defendants who get pissed off at their Public Defenders and who feel they got robbed by the system themselves.

The pattern is this – the public defender is so busy that they are unable to give a client super detailed personal attention, and the public defender makes the decision on what is best for the client on their own.

Then, the public defender subtly forces the client to go along with the plan that is good for the client, but not fully explained.

Because the Defendant does not understand what is happening, or why it is happening, they feel screwed.

My experience shows that a truly hard working public defender is going to do the right thing for the client, even if the client does not understand it. At times, they may have to get things done fast, and routine cases may get very little personal attention. Some public defenders can resolve 20, 30 cases in one morning. They are probably all done right, but they are done fast, without personal attention.

But here are a few real questions that you should ask your public defender to more fully understand what is going on in your case, even if you only get 5 minutes in the courtroom hallway. It’s not uncommon to talk to an attorney in the hallway, so dont be afraid to do it.

With these questions, if you can get good answers, you can make informed decisions in seconds:

1) What is the evidence against me?

You need to know what the evidence in court would be if you had a jury trial. Many defendants do not understand what evidence there really is, and as a result, some have a false impression of how bad things really are.

2) What is the normal sentence for the case as it is now?

In many criminal cases, the original charges are changed before the case ends. Sometimes the charges get reduced, sometimes new charges are added. You need to know what most people get if nothing changes, and you plead Guilty to everything on the complaint (called “Pleading to the ‘Sheet’”).

3) What are my chances at a trial?

You need to know what an experienced, licensed, Attorney personally thinks about whether or not you can win a trial. After all, they are there everyday, and you are not.

4) Has the prosecutor made any offers?

Usually, a prosecutor will make an offer to end a criminal case at the first court date, called the “arraignment”. This offer sometimes changes. But many cases are resolved at teh first court date based on the initial offer from the prosecutor.

5) What are my options, and what is your recommendation?

You want to know what the Attorney thinks you should do. Even if you disagree, it is valuable knowledge.

6) Why can’t you talk the prosecutor into something better?

Inspire the Public Defender to try harder! Or at the very least get a detailed description as to what the problem or obstacle maybe.

7) Is There Any Evidence I Can Help You Find or Understand?

A Defendant should not interfere with the Attorney’s decisions about what evidence is important and what is not. But the Defendant should definitely seek to start a conversation about the types of evidence that may help you.

There maybe types of helpful evidence that you know about but that your public defender does not know. For example, if there is another friend you saw at the club that night who can verify your drinking pattern before you left, your public defender will not have that info if you do not discuss it. You may have to help jump start the conversation by asking if you can help.

Asking if you can help find evidence may also prompt the Attorney to think of other items or evidence he/she may need, such as a letter from an employer that would help your request

There you have it. Free Legal Self Help info. With these few questions, you can get enough understanding on your case to make informed decisions with out wasting time.

Questions? Leave a reply below.

More Info:

The San Francisco County Public Defenders Office provides a great deal of info and resources.

About Attorney Christopher Dort

Public Interest Attorney. CA State Bar #196832. Licensed to practice law in California 1998, and then the US Federal District Court in 2000. Civil Litigation Trial Attorney (Insurance Defense Firms) 2000-2003. Private practice 2003 - present. First Solo Criminal Jury Trial 1998 (Santa Cruz County). First Civil Jury Trial 2002 (Orange County). Santa Cruz County Public Defenders Office 1996-1999 (law clerk). BA in Politics from UC Santa Cruz, 1995. JD, University of California, Hastings, 1998.
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3 Responses to 7 Questions You Should Ask Your Public Defender Before Deciding on a Plea

  1. Kita says:

    A friend of mine has been accused of being involved in a crime. This happened a year ago and the police now know who did the crime but the investigation is still open and my friend is still in jail. Every court date has been discontinued so far and my friend has not spoken to the public defender in over four months. Is this normal? What should we expect to happen?

  2. Paige Teruya says:

    Thank you for such helpful information. You have describe my feelings toward my public defender to a tee. I will take what you have given me and use it tomorrow.
    Thank you again

  3. I was set up and Im disabled have to take tramal to live the rest of my life,Im afraid the jail wont give me my meds,while I prove my inocence,acused of selling drugs and proven not guilty before ,but the police made a mistake or someone accused me,not true.will I be able to get monitor at home while I get to prove my inocence????

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