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Following your first appearance/arraignment on one or more criminal charges, the court will make a determination of whether you are indigent and can afford counsel. This simply means the Judge inquires whether you have funds to hire your own attorney. The United States Constitution guarantees that every person who is financially unable to hire her or his own attorney in a criminal proceeding must be provided with a competent attorney at the government's expense.
In the 15th Judicial Circuit Court, Lee County, the attorneys employed by the Office of the Public Defender represent a substantial percentage of persons who are determined to be indigent. The court also appoints attorneys engaged in the private practice of law to represent persons charged with crimes who cannot afford to hire their own lawyer when the Public Defender has a conflict of interest. Such attorneys are not Public Defenders and are not employed by the Public Defender's Office.
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Public Defenders are responsible for all aspects of a case, including:
Caseloads range from all felonies to misdemeanors, and juvenile abuse and neglect cases.
If you are financially able to hire your own attorney, you are encouraged to do so immediately. Our services are limited to those who cannot afford counsel.
The formal court process begins with those charged entering a plea of "not guilty" when they first appear in court. This plea may change subject to certain negotiations. Next, your case will be assigned to a judge who is responsible for the handling of your preliminary hearing in felony cases, otherwise, your case will be placed before your trial court judge. The end of your case could mean a trial, dismissal or the entry of a guilty plea as part of a plea bargain. Your assigned lawyer is always present at any stage of the proceedings in court to discuss your options and to advocate on your behalf.
The Judge at your arraignment sets bond. The bond is designed to ensure that you show up for court when required. In the event you fail to appear in court, the Judge will issue a warrant.
If you are unable to make a bond your Public Defender may ask your assigned Trial Judge to lower the bond in an attempt to have you released from jail while your case is pending. The amount of the bond set by the judge at the time of arraignment is usually based on the severity of the crime you're charged with and the extent of your criminal record.
If you are someone who is in jail as a suspected probation or parole violator, in addition to the new charges you are facing, it is likely that a hold has been placed on you at the request of the probation or parole department. In such situations, it is unlikely that you'll be released from jail until you have completed proceedings on the new charges and have dealt with the claimed violation at either a probation violation or parole revocation hearing.
In most instances, your assigned attorney will attempt to speak with you prior to your first court appearance before the assigned Judge at the time. Again, if you are on bond, the attorney may speak with you by phone or arrange for you to come into the office for a face to face appointment.
If you are in jail, your lawyer, time permitting, will come to see you in person. You should understand that your attorney will have no independent information about your case until he appears in court for a first pretrial conference. This usually occurs within ten to fourteen days of the date of your arraignment. Your first court date before the assigned Trial Judge is not set by your lawyer. It is the judge's responsibility to set the cases as quickly as his or her caseload permits.
If you are on bond make sure you know when your next court date is and that your contact information with our office is up-to-date. Our inability to contact you could result in a warrant being issued for your arrest and the revocation of your bond. If you are in jail, unfortunately, you may have no advance formal notice of your first pretrial and will simply be brought up on the date set by the court.
A pre-trial conference is not a date for the trial of your case. It is really an opportunity for your lawyer to meet with the prosecutor to gather information about your case. This gathering of information is called discovery and usually consists of an informal conversation in which the prosecutor provides a summary of the case against you and the names of the witnesses he or she intends to call against you should your case go to trial. Your attorney will file all necessary pretrial motions on your behalf and it is not necessary for you to attempt to do so on your own.
Once your Public Defender gets the case information and discovery, you will have an opportunity to review it. You will not be given your own copy, however.
If you are aware of potential witnesses who possess information regarding your case who you feel might be of help to you and your defense, be prepared to provide the names, addresses and telephone numbers of such persons. Your lawyer will need to contact them in advance of any trial date to discuss with them their anticipated testimony.
Do not discuss your case with anyone. This would most definitely include any law enforcement officer or member of the prosecution staff. If you are confined in jail, do not discuss your case with fellow inmates as it is not unusual for the police and prosecution to employ informants who could end up testifying against you. Further, keep in mind that all phone calls by inmates at the county jail are recorded.
Have no communication with the court and judge assigned to your case. This includes communications in written form and by letter. It is always best to allow any communication regarding you or your case to come through your attorney. Judges do not read your correspondence if you have counsel already. They simply forward the letter to your Public Defender. The best assistance you can give your Public Defender is being a cooperative, concerned and responsible client. Remember that you find yourself in a very serious situation requiring your complete attention,
The Lee County Services Building where court is held strict security procedures to ensure the safety of anyone entering the building. If you are coming to court, understand that you will be subject to a search of your person and belongings.
If found with any kind of contraband, including, but not limited to, guns, knives, any other kind of weapon, drugs or drug paraphernalia, you will be arrested. Moreover, it is not appropriate to come to court in the company of children. Please arrange to have someone watch your children when you are required to come to court. In addition, there are no cell phones permitted by non-employees.
You must present yourself clean and dressed in modest clothing. Lewd messages on clothing will not be tolerated, nor will suggestive clothing be permitted to be worn in court.
Please be on time. Tardiness reflects badly upon you with the court and in some instances could result in your bond being revoked. If your bond is revoked you may well be arrested and held in the county jail until your case is finished. In the event you are ill or have other problems affecting your ability to come to court, you must contact your attorney as soon as possible to see whether your case can be postponed and continued to another date. Don't assume your lawyer will be able to have your case rescheduled to a new date simply because you have called in asking for a postponement.
Understand that most judges require doctors excuses and/or some form of proof to substantiate a request for a postponement of your court date. Last-minute calls regarding sudden illness, car trouble and lack of transportation usually result in a warrant being issued for your arrest.