What is a public defender?
A public defender is an attorney appointed by the Court to represent a person who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. In Pinal County, public defenders represent adults and juveniles in misdemeanor criminal cases, felony criminal cases, and mental health civil commitment cases. A public defender is just like any other attorney. He or she graduated from an ABA accredited law school, passed the Arizona bar exam, and is licensed to practice law in Arizona.

How do I get a public defender?
A public defender can represent you only if the Pinal County Superior Court or a Justice Court within Pinal County determines that you cannot afford to hire a private attorney and appoints the Public Defender’s Office.

Working with your attorney
There are several things you can do to help your attorney while your case is pending:

  • Stay in touch with the Public Defender’s Office.
  • Give your attorney or his/her secretary your mailing address and telephone number. Let them know immediately if your address or telephone numbers changes. If you have more than one telephone number where you can be reached, give them all of those numbers.
  • Be on time for appointments. If you are going to be late, call the Public Defender’s Office and let someone know.
  • Return calls from your attorney. Remember, the juvenile – not the parent – is the client, and the juvenile should call his/her attorney personally. If the parent of the juvenile is the victim, the attorney cannot initiate contact with the parent. However, the parent can call the attorney and state that he or she wishes to communicate with the attorney.
  • Give your attorney a list of possible witnesses.
  • Tell your attorney if you have any other cases pending.
  • If you are arrested, call your attorney and tell him/her that you are in custody.
  • Your attorney can not discuss your case with anyone without your permission. This includes your parents or legal guardians. If you want your attorney to be able to discuss your case with your parents or legal guardians, you must tell your attorney that it is ok to talk to them.

What else should I do while my case is pending?

  • Be on time for court hearings. If you are going to be late, call the Public Defender’s Office and let someone know.
  • Dress nicely when you come to court. The judge will send you home to change if you are wearing shorts or a sleeveless shirt. Do not wear anything that advertises alcohol, drugs, or nudity. Your pants must be belted. Do not wear gang symbols or colors. Do not wear a hat in the courtroom. Parents should also dress appropriately.
  • Make a good impression. Call the judge “Sir,” “Ma’am,” or “Your Honor” during hearings.
  • Do not discuss your case with anyone other than your attorney, other members of the Public Defender’s Office, or your Guardian ad Litem, if one has been appointed. This includes other juveniles in detention, police, friends, co-defendants, probation officers, parole officers, judges, and prosecutors. Anything you say to any of these people may be used against you. They can be called as witnesses even if they don’t want to be witnesses.
  • Remember that all telephone calls made from the detention center and all personal visits at the detention center may be recorded.
  • Stay in school.
  • Do not send letters directly to the judge or the prosecutor or anyone else in the court system. Do not ask anyone else to write directly to those people. If you or a family member or friend has a letter for the judge or someone else in the court system, send it to your attorney. He/she will send it to the appropriate person if he/she thinks it will help your case.
  • If you are detained, make sure that your parents or guardians advise your school and do whatever is necessary to keep you from being disenrolled.
  • If you are released, follow all of your release conditions.

Who makes decisions regarding my case?
As the client, you always get to decide:

  • Whether to go to trial or take a plea agreement
  • Whether or not to testify
  • Whether to appeal if you are convicted

You should make these decisions after talking to your attorney about them.

Your attorney is responsible for making strategic decisions, such as

  • Which motions to file
  • Which witnesses to call
  • Whether to object in court

What if I miss a hearing?
Contact your attorney immediately. If the judge issued a warrant for your arrest, your attorney can arrange a self-surrender. If you turn yourself in voluntarily, there is a possibility that the judge will quash the warrant and allow you to remain out of custody while your case is pending. If the police arrest you on the warrant before you turn yourself in, it is highly unlikely that the judge will grant a request to allow you to remain out of custody until your case is resolved.