Frequently Asked Questions

About Public Defense:
What is the difference between a public defender and a Legal Aid lawyer?

Public defenders are paid by the state to handle criminal cases as part of the state's constitutional responsibility to provide legal representation for criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. Legal Aid lawyers are lawyers who handle civil (rather than criminal) cases, such as lawsuits, evictions, or divorces. Legal Aid lawyers usually provide their services free of charge. There is no constitutional right to a Legal Aid lawyer (for civil legal issues). There is a constitutional right to a public defender (for criminal charges) if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer on your own.

How do I get a public defender?

Ask the Court at your initial appearance, or go to the local public defender office and fill out an application.

Are public defenders real lawyers?

Yes. Public defenders are skilled in criminal law. Public defenders engage in intense training specific to their areas of practice and are subject to more supervision. The Louisiana Public Defender Board provides high quality training for all areas of public defense work, including juvenile defense, adult misdemeanor and felony defense, and capital defense. Public defenders participate in some of the best training available in the country.

What are the guidelines to qualify for a public defender?

You qualify for a public defender if you are unable to afford competent, qualified legal representation on your own. You automatically qualify for a public defender if you receive public assistance (food stamps, Medicaid, Disability, reside in public housing/Section 8 vouchers, etc,) or if you earn less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Guideline, or if you are serving a sentence in a correctional institution or housed in a mental health facility. If the above criteria are not met, a more thorough examination is done, which considers the seriousness of the offense, monthly expenses, needs of dependents, and local counsel rates. You can have a job and still qualify for a public defender.

Why do I have to pay a $40 application fee?

This $40 application fee offsets the expense the public defender's office undertakes to process your indigency application. If you cannot afford to pay the application fee, based on your indigency application, the fee may be reduced or waived.

If I am not in prison while waiting for arraignment, am I entitled to a public defender?

Yes, so long as you qualify for a public defender based on your financial situation. You should contact your local public defender's office and apply for a public defender.

What legal services are guaranteed if I am facing parole revocation?

Under state law, you are entitled to a public defender (if you qualify as indigent) for a parole revocation or pre-revocation hearing if you are indigent and if you request a lawyer.

In Child in Need of Care proceedings, who represents whom?

Since January 1, 2010, on all new CINC cases, the local public defender represents parents and local Legal Aid clinics or lawyers from the Children's Advocacy Program (Office of Mental Health) represent the children.

Do juveniles have the right to an attorney?

Yes. Under Louisiana law, children have a right to a lawyer at every hearing. Since 2005, the law in Louisiana prohibits juveniles from waiving their right to an attorney in felony cases. The law further prohibits any parent or guardian from waiving the right to an attorney on behalf of the child.

If I believe that my public defender is not meeting his professional and/or ethical obligations, what can I do?

The LPDB has adopted a complaint policy that must be implemented by the local District Defender. You may request and are entitled to receive a copy of the complaint policy from your local public defender's office. There is also a form to facilitate client claims on this website. www.ladb.org/how_to_file_a_complaint.asp

You can also file a complaint with the Louisiana Disciplinary Board.

What can I do to help my public defender work on my case if I am in jail?

Give complete information when you meet with your public defender or an investigator working for the public defender office. Let your family know the name and contact information for the public defender. If you have new information call your public defender or write a letter requesting a visit.

What do I do if there is a warrant for my arrest?

First, do not ignore the warrant or attempt to evade the authorities. If you have an appointed public defender, contact him/her immediately so he or she can assist you in dealing appropriately with the authorities. If you have not been appointed a public defender, contact your local public defender's office and request a lawyer.

What do I do if I cannot speak English? What language services are available?

Talk with your public defender about hiring an interpreter to help you have meaningful, confidential communication with your public defender. Your public defender may also consider having the court appoint an interpreter for court proceedings, in addition to the interpreter who translates discussions between you and your attorney. Insist that you have access to an interpreter when you need to communicate with your public defender. You do not give up your right to confidential communication with your public defender because you do not speak English.

Can I speak to a public defender about my case even though I already have an attorney?

No, you may not. However, if your financial circumstances change such that you can no longer afford to retain private counsel, you may terminate your legal relationship with private counsel and request to be represented by a public defender. You will have to fill out an application to make sure that you qualify.

How do I contact my public defender?

Your public defender is required to provide you their name, their supervisor's name and all relevant contact information at the time of appointment. This will most likely be in the form of a business card. You should use the address and telephone number listed on your attorney's card.

A complete list of all public defender offices in the state is also on this website.http://lpdb.la.gov/Office Locations/District Offices.php

If I am a family member of a defendant represented by a public defender, will the public defender talk to me?

Yes, you can call or write to the public defender at their office for updates about the case or how you can assist the defender. However, strict confidentiality rules govern what a public defender can share about his/her client. There may be information that the public defender cannot share.

Why won't the public defender talk to my family about what I told him?

Your communications with your lawyer are confidential, protected by the attorney client privilege. Only with your specific, often written, permission can a lawyer reveal to anyone what you have told him/her. Keep in mind that in many cases, the best way to advocate for your case is to keep all case«related information as private as possible.

What is a release or authorization and why should I sign one?

This is a document that allows your lawyer to obtain documents or information from institutions such as hospitals, banks, government agencies, etc. You should only sign a release if your lawyer advises you to do so.

What can I do to help my public defender work on my case if I am in jail?

Give complete information when you meet with your public defender or an investigator working for the public defender office. Let your family know the name and contact information for the public defender. If you have new information call your public defender or write a letter requesting a visit.


About the Criminal Justice Process:
If I am arrested, within what amount of time am I guaranteed access to an attorney?

You are entitled to request an attorney as early as the moment of your arrest. By law your arrest without a warrant requires that a court review the facts of your arrest to determine if there are grounds for it within 48 hours. This can be done without your presence. However, the law requires that you be brought before a judge for appointment of counsel, if you qualify, within 72 hours.

How long does the District Attorney have to file charges if I am charged with a delinquency charge (as a juvenile)?

If you are in jail, the District Attorney must file charges within 72 hours, excluding weekends and holidays.

How long does the District Attorney have to file charges if I am charged with a misdemeanor offense?

If you are in jail, the District Attorney must file charges within 45 days of your arrest. If you have bonded from jail, the District Attorney must file charges within 90 days of your arrest. If the District Attorney does not file charges against you in the time required by law, you may be entitled to be released from jail or your bail obligation. However, even if you are released from jail or bond obligation you may still be subject to prosecution. Your public defender should be consulted for specific information about your case.

How long does the District Attorney have to file charges if I am charged with a felony offense?

If you are in jail, the District Attorney must file charges within 60 days of your arrest, except that that the District Attorney has 120 days from your arrest to file charges for first or second degree murder, aggravated rape, or aggravated kidnapping. If you have bonded from jail, the District Attorney must file felony charges within 150 days of your arrest. If the District Attorney does not file charges against you in the time required by law, you may be entitled to be released from jail or your bail obligation. However, even if you are released from jail or bond obligation you may still be subject to prosecution. Your public defender should be consulted for specific information about your case.

What is a 72-hour hearing? Am I guaranteed a lawyer?

A 72-hour hearing is supposed to happen within 72 hours of your arrest. It is at this hearing that counsel is appointed if you cannot afford to hire a private attorney. At this hearing, the court may also consider or review your bail amount. In some jurisdictions this appearance may be conducted via closed circuit television.

What is an arraignment?

An arraignment consists of the reading of the charges to the defendant by the clerk in open court and the court calling upon the defendant to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

Who makes the decision to "drop my case"?

While your case may be dismissed by the judge in court on a number of grounds, it is only the District Attorney who has the authority to dismiss charges before going to court.

Why can't I file my own motions if I have a court appointed lawyer?

Many courts will accept motions filed by citizens with court appointed lawyers but it is generally advisable to rely on counsel's advice. Your proposed motions may be submitted to your lawyer as suggestions.

What is "conflict counsel"?

Conflict counsel is a lawyer appointed to a defendant usually when there is a co-defendant in the same case, in order to avoid one lawyer representing more than one person, which can create conflicts of interest. Many public defender offices have access to a "conflict panel", which consists of lawyers who are not necessarily public defenders, but who will provide legal services to you the same way that a public defender would.

Are the prosecutors, judges and public defenders all paid by the same source and therefore working together?

No. The State of Louisiana has an interest and an obligation to administer a criminal justice system that is fair and promotes the welfare of the people. Even though State funds (generated by tax dollars) support all criminal justice agencies, each has an independent role. The public defender is independent of the prosecutors and judges, both in terms of the source of funding and the delivery and supervision of public defense services.

Can I be imprisoned for failing to pay fines and fees?

Yes, failing to pay fines and fees is considered 'contempt of court'. However, if you cannot afford to pay the fine or fee within the time allotted, you may ask the court for additional time or request a payment plan. The judge is not obliged to grant the request, but many are willing to work with you if you can demonstrate that you would suffer a severe economic hardship as a result of paying the fine immediately. If a judge does grant a request for more time to pay or for a payment plan, it is very important to pay as agreed. Failure to pay may result in imprisonment. If you are brought to court for failing to pay you should ask for your public defender to be present.

If I was wrongfully convicted, what can I do?

If you are imprisoned at Angola State Penitentiary, you should contact the Office of Inmate Counsel as soon as possible due to the fact that there are time limitations for filing an appeal. You can also contact Innocence Project New Orleans at: Case Review Manager, Innocence Project New Orleans, 3301 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 70117.


About Bail and Bonds:
Are there any alternatives to a cash bond?

Yes. You can obtain a commercial surety (bail bond) that is purchased through a private bail bond company. Typically, the price paid to the bondsman is a percentage of the bail set by the court. That percentage does not get returned, even if you comply with all orders of the Court. Another option is a personal surety bond. In this case a Louisiana citizen pledges to pay the full bail price if the defendant does not appear for court. Another option is bond without surety. This is commonly referred to as personal recognizance. In this instance the defendant is allowed to post bond on his promise to return for his court date. You or someone on your behalf may also post a property bond which generally must be approved by the sheriff and the judge.

What is a "parole hold"?

A parole hold occurs when there has been an allegation that an incarcerated person, generally one recently arrested while free on parole, might have violated parole. It is then that an arresting officer or a parole officer may request that the person remain in jail until a probable cause warrant is issued or the allegation is dismissed. The judge may elect to deny bond in this situation.

How can I get my public defender to make a motion to reduce my bond?

Make a written request to your public defender. In it, give as many reasons as you can why your bond should be reduced.


Other:
Are there any support groups for the families of juvenile defendants in Louisiana?

Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) is Louisiana's pre-eminent support group for families of juvenile defendants in Louisiana. They have offices in Lake Charles Lafayette, Shreveport, New Orleans and Tallulah. Their website is www.fflic.org and their central office phone number is 504-522-5437. FFLIC provides support for families and advocates for systemic changes throughout the state.

Are there any resources to assist in re-entry if I am leaving prison?

Louisiana CURE (Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants) is a possible resource to assist with re-entry. CURE has its offices in Baton Rouge and has been working to reduce crime through prison reform in Louisiana since 1990. CURE holds monthly meetings, offers limited support services and circulates a regular newsletter. Their website is www.curelouisiana.org.

Resurrection After Exoneration (RAE) was founded in 2007 by exonerees to promote and sustain a network of support among formerly wrongfully incarcerated individuals in the South. RAE also provides support to returning long-term offenders. Its offices are located in New Orleans and their website is www.r-a-e.org. You can also contact them by phone at 504-943-1902.

What does it mean to have a record expunged, and how do you do it?

Expungement means that all or most evidence of an arrest or an arrest and conviction is removed from your criminal record. Every jurisdiction has a different procedure and different fees for expungement. Expungement proceedings are civil claims, and often require an attorney. They must be filed in the same jurisdiction as the offense. Public defenders are not obligated to handle expungements, and because their workload is significant, most offices do not. If a client is part of Drug Court or another specialty court that includes an expungement service, this should be handled by the program.

What is my public defender's obligation to explain the collateral consequences of a conviction (upon my eligibility to receive public benefits, vote, own a weapon and other rights)?

All lawyers have an obligation to fully explain the consequences of any plea deal contemplated or the consequences of a conviction. If you have particular circumstances, you should ask your public defender to explain the impact of a conviction on these circumstances before agreeing to a plea agreement.

How do I find out if a family member or friend is in prison in Louisiana?

You may be able to locate the prisoner through ¬Inmate Locator' online (www.theinmatelocater.com/Louisiana). You can also find a complete director of all parish prisons and state correctional facilities in Louisiana on our website at http://lpdb.la.gov/Advocating for Clients/Directory/State Prisons & Wardens.php

What can I do to improve the public defense system in Louisiana?

There are several ways to improve the public defense in our state. One is to contact your senator or representative in the State Legislature. Many decisions are made in the Louisiana Legislature every year that affect public defense in the state. If you have a story to share with LPDB about your experience so we can better advocate on your behalf, please leave feedback on our website at http://lpdb.la.gov/Contact/Contact Form.php

Finally, you can organize in your community to learn more about public defense. LPDB does community outreach and provides public education programs for interested groups. Please contact us to request programming or if we can be of assistance.

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