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Alameda County, CA, acgov.org
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FAQs

If the police contact me, do I have to speak with them?

No. If you are questioned by law enforcement, it is essential to keep in mind the Miranda warnings: "You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and may be used against you in court; you have the right to an attorney before and during any questioning; if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to assist you."

State clearly that you wish to have an attorney present before and during any questioning. If law enforcement continues to question you after you have requested an attorney, repeat your request for an attorney and otherwise remain silent.

What should I do if the police want to search me or my belongings?

Law enforcement is under no duty to advise you of your rights in order to search you or your property. Nevertheless, law enforcement can only search you or your property under certain circumstances. While you do have the right to refuse to be searched or have your property searched, there are situations where law enforcement can search you or your property without your consent. If you do not consent to being searched by law enforcement, you should clearly tell the police that you do not want to be searched. If law enforcement has a search warrant, ask for a copy of the warrant.

If I think I’m under investigation by the police, should I speak with a public defender?

Absolutely! That’s what we’re here for. If you have reason to believe that you are under investigation by law enforcement, contact our office immediately and come speak with an attorney. Talking with an attorney is important so that you can understand your rights, responsibilities and the potential outcomes of any investigation. Law enforcement investigators should understand and must respect your desire to speak with an attorney. Any consultation about your situation with a public defender will be completely confidential.

What should I do if a family member or friend is arrested?

If a friend or family member is in jail, and you are trying to get helpful information, the most important thing you can tell your friend or family member is:

While you are in jail, DO NOT discuss the facts of your case with anyone. Do not talk with the police. Do not talk with other inmates. Do not talk to your friends or family over the phone about the facts of the case. Wait until you meet your lawyer to talk about the facts of your case because only conversations between you and your lawyer are protected by attorney-client privilege and are confidential, and only your lawyer will be able to give you accurate, reliable advice about how to proceed with your case. REMEMBER: ALL CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN ANYONE OTHER THAN YOUR LAWYER ARE RECORDED.

Are public defenders real lawyers?

Absolutely! All public defenders are attorneys who are members of the California State Bar and are licensed to practice law in the State of California. In order to become a public defender in the Office of the Alameda County Public Defender, a lawyer who has already passed the State Bar examination must also go through a rigorous interview and oral examination to ensure that the person has the intellectual ability, legal knowledge, and commitment to practice criminal defense law. Public defenders in the Office of the Alameda County Public Defender are graduates of some of the finest law schools in the United States. Additionally, the office makes sure that all public defenders are continually trained and current in the law by offering extensive and specialized in-house trainings covering all aspects of criminal defense law.

Will a public defender fight for me?

Tirelessly, fearlessly, and with compassion! The primary responsibility of the Office of the Alameda County Public Defender is to provide vigorous legal representation to all persons who have been accused of criminal misconduct but are currently unable to afford to hire private defense counsel. If appointed to represent you, the Public Defender’s only loyalty is to you, our client.

How do I get a public defender to represent me if I’m in custody after I’m arrested?

If you are in custody, usually within two court days of your arrest you will be brought to a local court for your arraignment. At this court date, tell the judge that you want a public defender to represent you. Your case will be continued to the next court day. Before your next appearance in court, a public defender will meet with you to determine that you are financially eligible to be represented by the Public Defender. If you are, the attorney will explain the charges against you, learn from you the important facts of the case, and describe the steps that lay ahead in your case.

How do I get a public defender to represent me if I’m out of custody after I’m arrested?

If you are not in custody after you are arrested, the police will give you a time and place to appear for your arraignment. At this court date, tell the judge you want a public defender to represent you. Your case will be continued approximately one to two weeks and the judge will order that you go to the local branch office of the Public Defender to be interviewed. Before your next court date you will go the local Public Defender office where a public defender will meet with you in person to determine that you are financially eligible to be represented by the Public Defender. If you are, the attorney will explain the charges against you, learn from you the important facts of the case, and describe the steps that lay ahead in your case.

Should I try and resolve my case without a lawyer?

This is never a good idea. You have the right at all stages of the criminal process to be represented by a lawyer. In some courthouses, when you appear out of custody at your arraignment in a misdemeanor case, the judge might call your case, advise you of the charges and then ask if you would like to speak with the District Attorney who is in court and may offer a resolution of your case. It is always a good idea to speak to a criminal defense lawyer before entering a plea because there may be defenses available of which you are not aware and there might be consequences to pleading guilty that could cause you problems in the future. Don’t feel pressured into resolving your case without a lawyer. Simply tell the judge that you would like to be referred to the Public Defender.

Can I get advice from a public defender before I appear at the first court date?

Yes! Being charged in a criminal matter can be extremely traumatic. It is perfectly understandable that you might want to speak with a lawyer from the Office of the Public Defender before your first scheduled court date. The best way to speak to a public defender is to call the Public Defender's Office at the courthouse where you have been told to appear for arraignment and come in to speak with a lawyer in person. The attorney you speak with will discuss how the law may affect you, what your rights are, and what to expect in court. It is quite natural to feel overwhelmed if you have been charged in a criminal case. If this ever happens to you, do not hesitate to call the Public Defender's Office for assistance. That is what we are here for.

What happens if I'm in custody and the police want to talk to me or to place me in a lineup?

Ask to have a lawyer represent you. Before being questioned regarding a crime, the police must inform you that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Likewise, if the police want to place you in a lineup, you have the right to have an attorney present at the lineup. The Office of the Public Defender has attorneys on call to serve these functions. A public defender who goes to the police station or jail serves as your attorney in the same way as if you had retained the attorney to represent you. The attorney represents you, not the police.

How do I contact my public defender?

Call any of our offices and the receptionist will connect you to your lawyer’s office. All public defenders have voice mail, so you can leave a message. Anytime you have to leave a telephone message for your attorney, always remember to speak slowly and clearly. Leave your complete name, your case number and/or PFN if you know it, your next court date, a telephone number, and the best time for your attorney to contact you.

If I forget the name of my public defender, how can I find out who is representing me?

Call the Public Defender's Office where your case is pending. Provide the receptionist with your case number, or -- if you can't remember the number -- provide your full name and date of birth. Ordinarily, that information will be enough to help our staff determine the name of your attorney. The receptionist will then connect you to your attorney.

If I forget my court date, how do I find out when it is?

Call the Public Defender’s Office immediately! If you don’t know your next court date, don’t put off calling to find out. Missing a court date can result in the judge taking you into custody when you do show up or a warrant being issued for your arrest. The easiest way to find out your next court date is to contact the Public Defender’s office at the court where your case is being heard and our staff will be able to tell you your next court date. Whenever you call a Public Defender Office, it is always very helpful to have your case number available.

If I forget where the court is located, how can I find out where I'm supposed to appear?

Call the Public Defender’s Office immediately! Give your your name and case number to the receptionist and, in most circumstances, our staff will be able to tell you the precise location of your particular court and give you directions how to get there.

What is Bail?

"Bail" is the amount of money that a defendant (or typically someone on his/her behalf) must pay in order to be released from jail. It is intended to assure the court that the defendant will appear at his/her future court dates.

What is an "O.R."?

Being released on an "O.R." means being released on one's own recognizance, that is on one's promise to appear in the future without having to post bail. If you are released on an O.R., the judge may impose conditions of your release.

When will the judge set bail and/or consider an O.R. release?

If you are in custody at your arraignment the judge will set the bail amount according to the County’s bail schedule and in light of the circumstances of your background and the conduct with which you are charged. The Alameda County bail schedule is posted at http://www.alameda.courts.ca.gov/Pages.aspx/Bail-Schedules. Remember that the bail schedule is a guideline and the actual bail set may deviate from the schedule. Sometimes, the judge will O.R. you at your arraignment.

When you appear with your public defender after arraignment, you are entitled to ask the court to lower the previously set bail amount and/or to release you on your own recognizance. Your lawyer will discuss this with you.

What is a "plea bargain"?

Prior to the trial of your case, the District Attorney will meet with your public defender and offer a "plea bargain" to resolve your case without a trial. This often means pleading guilty or no contest to fewer or less serious charges than those pending against you for an agreed upon sentence. The decision to accept a pretrial offer or go to trial is perhaps the weightiest decision a defendant can make in a criminal case. The Office of the Public Defender is committed to offering you all the information, advice and counsel we can to help you make the best decision you can. In the end, the decision to accept an offer and end your case without a trial or to fight your case at trial is yours and yours alone. It is important to remember that all public defenders are experienced, skilled and effective trial lawyers. If you wish to go to trial, you can be sure that you will get vigorous representation from a dedicated advocate.

If I get convicted after a misdemeanor or felony trial, can I appeal?

Yes. Defendants who have been convicted after a misdemeanor or felony trial have the right to appeal their conviction. This process is started by the trial attorney who, upon request of the client, will file a notice of appeal in the trial. A lawyer who specializes in appeals will then be appointed to represent you in your appeal. These lawyers are not employees of the Public Defender’s Office. However, your public defender will provide your appellate lawyer with all the information she needs to help you win your appeal.

How do I find out if there is a bench warrant for my arrest?

If you are already represented by a public defender on the case, call the Public Defender's Office where your case is pending and give the receptionist your case number, or your full name and date of birth. That information will be enough to determine whether there is a warrant for your arrest. Arrangements can then be made through your attorney to accompany you to court to deal with the warrant. It is better to work with your attorney to deal with a bench warrant than to ignore the warrant and take your chances on being arrested and jailed.

If you have not yet been to court on the case and therefore do not have a lawyer, call the Public Defender’s Office and make an appointment to come in and speak with a lawyer about your situation.

In either case, you need to speak with a public defender and make arrangements to go to court to deal with the warrant. It is far better to do that than to take chances on being arrested on the warrant and then jailed. It would also be helpful to be able to explain why you failed to appear in court. If there is any written record (such as a letter from your doctor or your employer) which may help to explain your absence, the judge might consider giving you another chance rather than putting you into custody.

Will the Public Defender's Office represent me if I am a citizen of another country?

Absolutely! The Office of the Public Defender is available to represent you, in your criminal case, regardless of your citizenship status. The Office of the Public Defender will also provide you with accurate information regarding the possible immigration consequences to any potential resolution of your case.

If my English is limited, can I get an interpreter to assist me?

Yes, whenever necessary, your public defender will obtain the assistance of an interpreter. An interpreter will be made available for interviews, consultations, and court proceedings. A substantial number of our attorneys, clerical staff, and investigators are fluent in Spanish and other languages. In court, an official court interpreter will be obtained for whichever language or dialect is needed for you to be able to clearly communicate and understand everything that is going on in your case.

Does the Office of the Public Defender have investigators who can look for evidence that will help me?

Yes! The Office of the Public Defender has a staff of highly trained and experienced investigators. Their job is to track down any witnesses and obtain any physical evidence that might prove a client's innocence or demonstrate a weakness in the prosecutor's case. Not infrequently, it is due to the work by a dedicated Public Defender investigator that an innocent client is released from custody. Other times, the investigator’s work helps to obtain lighter sentences for individuals who have been convicted.

Will what I say to a Public Defender Investigator be kept confidential?

The attorney-client privilege concerns the confidential communication between lawyer and client which cannot be disclosed to anyone without the consent of the client. This same privilege extends to ALL employees of the Public Defender's Office, including investigators.

Will the Public Defender represent me in a civil case?

No, the Public Defender only represents persons subject to criminal prosecution, civil commitment, and some contempt citations. In all other cases, the Public Defender does not represent individuals in civil cases, nor can our Office recommend any particular attorney or law firm. The Alameda County Bar Association provides a certified lawyer referral service. Find them on the internet at www.acbanet.org or call them at (510) 302-2222.

How can I contact someone who is incarcerated in Alameda County?

If a friend or family member is incarcerated at Santa Rita or North County jail, and you wish to visit them, send them money, enable them to call you, or correspond with them, you should click on the following link: https://www.alamedacountysheriff.org/dc_srj.php.

REMEMBER THAT ALL CONVERSATIONS WITH AN INMATE AT SANTA RITA OR NORTH COUNTY JAIL (WHETHER BY PHONE OR IN PERSON) ARE RECORDED. DO NOT EVER SPEAK WITH AN INMATE ABOUT ANYTHING HAVING TO DO WITH THEIR CASE!

Can I still vote if I have a criminal conviction?

Yes, if you have a misdemeanor conviction, you can still vote. A misdemeanor does not affect your right to vote.

If you have a felony conviction, so long as you are not currently in prison or on parole or post-release community supervision, you can vote. You can vote if you are on felony probation.

Once you complete your prison sentence, parole, or any post-release community supervision, your voting rights are automatically restored. However, you still need to fill out a voter registration card in order to be able to vote. You have to register to vote at least 15 days before Election Day.

Can I still vote if I am in jail?

Yes, even if you are in jail, you are eligible to vote as long as you meet the following Voter Registration Requirements:

  • Are a citizen of the United States; Are a resident of California; Are at least 18 years of age or older as of Election Day;
  • Have registered to vote at least fifteen (15) days prior to Election Day (the most important step);
  • Are awaiting trial or on trial for any crime;
  • Are in jail for a misdemeanor;
  • Are on probation, even if you are in jail as a condition of your probation;
  • Are awaiting a judge’s decision on a probation violation.

If you meet the above requirements, you have the right to vote!

For more detailed information on your voting rights, visit http://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights-california-voter-information.

DISCLAIMER: This site is meant to provide information of a general nature which you should verify with an attorney before relying upon it. It does not provide legal advice and is not meant to establish an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice you should ALWAYS contact an attorney.

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