You are here:
Home > Client FAQ's
How did I get a Public Defender assigned to my case?
Following your initial appearance or arraignment on one or more felony offenses in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, you were determined to be indigent. This simply means the judge found you were without funds to hire your own attorney. The United States Constitution guarantees that every person who is financially unable to hire their own attorney must be provided with a competent attorney at the government's expense.
In Cuyahoga 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. Such attorneys are not Public Defenders and are not employed by the Defender Office. Be assured that the assistant Public Defender attorney assigned to your case has been determined by the Chief Pubic Defender to have the skill and experience necessary to handle your case.
What if I am able to hire my own attorney?
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.
What else happened at my arraignment?
The arraignment room judge determines that you had received a copy of the complaint or indictment listing the charges pending against you and the court entered a plea of not guilty on your behalf. This is a common and typical event at the time of arraignment and regardless of whether you think you may have committed the crime with which you are charged, everyone without an attorney has a "not guilty" plea entered when they first appear in court.
Second, your case was assigned to a trial judge who is responsible for the handling of your case until it is completed. This is a different judge than the one who conducted your arraignment. If you were on probation at the time of your arraignment, it is likely that your case will be assigned to the same judge who placed you on probation.
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.
What about bond and bond reductions?
The judge at your initial appearance and/or arraignment set a bond. The bond is designed to insure that you show up for court when required. In the event you fail to appear in court, the judge will issue a warrant, also known as a "capias", for your arrest. In this event either your bondsman or a deputy sheriff could be sent out to arrest you. Once the capias is issued, any contact you may have with a police officer could result in your arrest. If you are unable to make bond your lawyer 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, the extent of your criminal record and your ties to the community.
What if I am on Probation or Parole?
If you are someone who is in jail as a suspected community control sanction violator (probation violatot) or parole (post-release control or PRC) violator , in addition to the new charges you are facing, it is likely that a holder has been placed on you at the request of the probation department or adult parole authority. 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.
What will happen next?
Your public defender lawyer will interview you for background information and a brief summary of what, if anything, you know about the allegations made against you in the complaint or indictment. If you are on bond, the public defender attorney will either schedule an office visit with you or complete the initial interview by telephone. In the event you are in county jail and unable to make bond, your public defender attorney will visit with you to complete the interview.
Any information you provide to your assigned attorney or anyone he or she designates to work on your behalf such as a social worker or investigator is confidential and only used by your attorney in an attempt to assist you.
When do I get to speak with my attorney?
Your assigned attorney will speak with you prior to your first court appearance before the assigned trial judge.
If you are in jail, your lawyer, will come to see you in person. By that time your public defender attorney should be in possession of documents and reports provided to him or her by the prosecutor handling your case. Such documents typically consist of police reports, witness statements and other scientific laboratory reports known in legal jargon as “discovery”. The prosecutor is obligated under current law to turn all such material over to your attorney so that they have all the important information pertaining to your case. This material will be incorporated into the the attorney-client interview. Your attorney is responsible for determining what, if any, legal issues are presented by your specific case. Your attorney will file all necessary pre-trial motions on your behalf and it is not necessary for you to attempt to do so. Legal training is a necessary component of such determinations and clients are strictly advised not to conduct such legal work on their own behalf.
What is a pre-trial conference?
Typically, within a week or two of your initial appearance or arraignment, the assigned trial judge will schedule a first pre-trial. If you are on bond, your attorney will send you a letter indicating when and where you are required to come to court. In the event you have not received a letter within two weeks of your arraignment notifying you of your first pre-trial date, it is suggested you contact the Public Defender office. In many instances, the address provided to us for you by court personnel may be incorrect, making it impossible to contact you. 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 you may have no advance formal notice of your first pre-trial and will simply be brought up on the date set by the court. Whether you are brought to the courtroom from county jail is a decided by your assigned trial judge
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 additional information about your case. It is typical that several pre-trials are scheduled before your case may proceed to trial. The pretrial creates the opportunity for plea discussions between your assigned public defender attorney and the assistant prosecuting attorney assigned to your case.
Will I get to see the police reports and witness statements?
You may be permitted to review with your public defender attorney certain documents such as police reports and witness statements. In some instances, however, due to a variety of factors, the prosecutor may restrict a client’s ability to review the actual document. This does not, however, prevent your public defender attorney from reviewing such materials with you. Your attorney will strongly recommend that you not possess copies of such reports and statements, particularly when you are in custody in county jail awaiting the disposition of your case. Confidential information about the specifics of your case can readily fall into the hands of unauthorized third-parties who may use the information against you. It is in your best interest to have such sensitive material remain in the custody of your attorney whether you are in jail or out on bond.
What can I do to help my lawyer help me?
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.
All inmate telephone calls are recorded!
Be aware that any and all telephone calls made by inmates from the county jail are recorded and the sheriff’s department maintains a sophisticated database which enables the quick retrieval or such conversations. Everything you say can and will be used against you. Do not discuss the particulars of your case with anyone during a telephone call made by you from the county jail.
Have no communication with the judge assigned to your case. This includes telephone communications and by letter. It is always best to allow any communication regarding you or your case to come through your attorney. He or she possesses the legal knowledge to determine what information should or should not be made available to your assigned judge.
Assistant Public Defenders have many resources available to them to assist them in conducting your defense including, investigators, social workers, law clerks and support staff. Be aware, however, the best assistance any criminal defense attorney can have is a cooperative, concerned and responsible client. Remember that you find yourself in a very serious situation requiring your complete attention.
The Justice Center has recently adopted strict procedures to insure the safety of anyone entering the complex. If you are coming to court while out on bond, 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.
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 effecting 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.
What about drugs and drug testing?
You should also know that at any time while your case is pending, there may come a time when you are asked to provide a urine specimen to court officials used to determine whether you are using drugs. This would include controlled substances such as marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine, crystal meth, heroin and other opiate based painkillers, amphetamines, and just about any type of illegal street drug. These types of substances remain in a person's urine for varying amounts of time and may provide positive drug testing indications long after one has stopped using them. A positive test can have adverse effects upon favorable disposition of your case and could result in your incarceration. If you are using medication prescribed by a doctor, be prepared to prove it by presenting the original prescription vials in which such drugs were originally delivered to you. THEREFORE, DO NOT USE ILLEGAL DRUGS WHILE YOUR CASE IS PENDING. IF YOU ARE USING DRUGS AND HAVE THE ABILITY TO STOP, DO SO IMMEDIATELY, If you are drug addicted or have a drug problem, it is important for you to tell your attorney so that such difficulty is properly taken into consideration when making decisions regarding your case. There is help available to those seeking treatment for a drug addiction problem.