Everything You Need to Know About the Oklahoma County Public Defender

Frequently Asked Questions of the Oklahoma County Public Defender’s Office:  A Public Service Announcement

(If your case is in juvenile court, click here.)

How do I get a public defender?  Call (405) 713-1550, and keep calling until someone answers

Public defenders are appointed by the court for defendants who cannot afford to hire private counsel. If you have not bonded out, the court will automatically appoint a public defender for you at your first court date, called your arraignment. If you have bonded out and wish to be represented by a public defender, you must fill out an application and present it to the judge at your next court date. Applications can be picked up at the Public Defender’s Office or accessedhere.

If I make bond can I still get a public defender?
Making bond creates a presumption that you are financially able to hire a private attorney. This presumption does not mean that you cannot get a public defender; it simply means that you must demonstrate financial need to the judge before he or she will appoint a public defender for you.

How much money can I make and still qualify for the services of the Public Defender?
There is no fixed amount. When assessing your ability to pay for a private attorney, the court will consider all aspects of your current financial situation, including income, savings, assets, financial obligations, debts, and bankruptcies. If the court then decides that you cannot afford to hire a private attorney, it will appoint a public defender to represent you.

Are public defenders real lawyers?
Absolutely. Public defenders rank among the best, most experienced criminal defense lawyers in the state. All public defenders have at least a Juris Doctor degree from an accredited law school and a license to practice law from the Oklahoma Bar Association. The average public defender in our office also has over four years’ experience specializing in criminal defense, and all public defenders participate in continuing legal education seminars to stay current with developments in criminal law.

Would I be better off hiring a private attorney?
If you can afford to hire a private attorney, you should hire one, because you are not entitled to the services of the public defender.

If you can’t afford a private attorney, keep in mind that public defenders are outstanding attorneys. Public defenders are extremely experienced: they try more cases in a year than many attorneys try in a lifetime. Public defenders are also highly specialized: because they work exclusively on criminal defense in Oklahoma County, they have an unparalleled, intimate knowledge of the criminal justice system here. Private attorneys and public defenders go to exactly the same law schools, represent the same types of individuals, and produce similar results in the courtroom. Many private attorneys in this county have worked as public defenders, and many public defenders have worked in private practice.

How does the Public Defender defend someone they know is guilty?

Only a jury can decide whether an individual is guilty or innocent. Our job is to provide our clients with the best representation possible, to ensure that their constitutional rights to due process, a fair trial, and a competent defense are protected.

When is my next court date?
There are three ways to find out the date of your next court appearance: you can look up the date on the Oklahoma State Courts Network, you can call our office at (405) 713-1550, or you can call the Court Clerk’s office at (405) 713-1705.

I’ve forgotten my lawyer’s name. How do I find out who represents me?
Call our office at (405) 713-1550 with your name and birth date, and our receptionist will be able to tell you your attorney’s name. If possible, please have your case number available as well.

Are all court-appointed attorneys public defenders?
No. When it would be impossible for our office to fairly represent an individual—a witness against one of our clients, for example—the court appoints a private attorney, called a conflict attorney, instead of a public defender.

What is a guardian ad litem?
Guardians ad litem are attorneys appointed by the court to represent children in domestic proceedings. Guardians ad litem are most often appointed in cases involving allegations of abuse or neglect.

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