Public Defender FAQ - Public Defender

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Public Defender FAQ

How do I apply for an attorney?

Public Defenders are attorneys appointed by the court. If you are out of custody, you may fill out and file an application at the Clerk’s office, which is located on the first floor of the Ada County Courthouse. If you are in custody, an Application will be given to you by jail staff prior to your first appearance. You may also request the judge appoint counsel to represent you at your next court appearance

What types of cases does the Public Defender handle?

The office of the Ada County Public Defender can be appointed to represent indigent persons for the following types of cases:

  • Felony
    • Probation Violation
    • Contempt
  • Misdemeanor
    • Probation Violation
    • Contempt
  • Juvenile
  • Mental health commitment proceedings
  • Contempt allegations arising from a civil judgment
  • Child protection matters
  • Termination of parental rights
  • Post-conviction or post-commitment proceedings
  • Excluding felony cases and post-conviction matters within the district court, the Public Defender can be appointed to represent indigent persons wishing to appeal their case.

If you are being sued, have immigration problems, are being evicted from your home, have a worker’s compensation claim, want a divorce, etc., you may qualify for assistance from other agencies. We do not handle those types of cases. Possible agencies include:

  • Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program
  • Idaho State Bar Lawyer Referral Service
  • Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc.
  • Catholic Charities of Idaho
  • Senior Legal Hotline (age 60 or older)
  • Domestic Violence Legal Advice Line
  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • Idaho Commission on Human Rights

Will the Public Defender represent me in a civil case?

Maybe. The Court can appoint the Public Defender’s Office to represent indigent persons involved in mental commitment proceedings, child protection matters, the termination of parental rights, and allegations of contempt of a civil judgment. Additionally, the office is sometimes appointed to represent those in post-conviction proceedings and some habeas corpus matters.

If you are being sued, have immigration problems, are being evicted from your home, have a worker’s compensation claim, want a divorce, etc., you may qualify for assistance from other agencies. We do not handle those types of cases. Possible agencies include:

  • Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program
  • Idaho State Bar Lawyer Referral Service
  • Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc.
  • Catholic Charities of Idaho
  • Senior Legal Hotline (age 60 or older)
  • Domestic Violence Legal Advice Line
  • Fair Lending/Fair Housing Legal Advice Line
  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • Idaho Commission on Human Rights
  • Disability Rights Idaho

What are the Charges for which I can be represented by the Ada County Public Defender?

If the crime for which you have been charged carries a possible jail or prison sentence, the Public Defender can be appointed by the court to represent you.

How are attorneys assigned

Excluding homicide cases, counsel is assigned based upon the handling judge.

Are public defenders real lawyers?

Definitely! All public defenders are members of the Idaho State Bar and are licensed to practice law in the state of Idaho. In order to be an attorney in the Ada County Public Defender’s office, applicants must go through a rigorous interview process to ensure that the person has the ability, knowledge, and commitment to practice criminal defense law. Public defenders throughout the state of Idaho must adhere to standards created by the Idaho Public Defense Commission, which are higher than privately retained attorneys.

Should I represent myself?

This is never a good idea. There is an old saying that a person who represents himself in court has a fool for a client. While self-representation is your constitutional right, you will be held to the same standards as a licensed attorney, and you will be facing a very skilled prosecutor.

In a criminal case, you have the right to be represented by a lawyer at all stages of the proceedings. In some courts, when you appear before a judge, there may be an opportunity for you to speak with a prosecutor and negotiate a settlement. However, it is always a good idea to speak with a criminal defense attorney prior to entering a plea; there may be defenses to your case that you are simply not aware of. There are consequences to pleading guilty to a criminal offense that could cause you problems in the future. Do not feel pressured into resolving your case without the assistance of counsel. If you are in court, simply tell the judge that you would like to have counsel appointed to represent you.

If I am a citizen of another country, can I still be represented by a Public Defender?

Certainly! As long as the court deems you to be an indigent person, and appoints the office to represent you, the Public Defender’s office will do so regardless of your citizenship. We have partnered with one of Idaho’s top immigration law firms; we will consult with their office so that we can provide you with the most accurate information regarding possible immigration consequences to any potential resolution to your case.

Does the Office of the Public Defender have investigators.

We sure do! The Office of the Public Defender employs six in-house, full-time investigators who are highly trained and experienced, many of whom used to be police officers. Their job is to contact any witnesses and obtain evidence that may help demonstrate your innocence or promote any weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case against you. Frequently, it is the work of our investigators that help obtain not guilty verdicts or lighter sentences for clients.

Can I speak with a Public Defender even though I already have an attorney?

No. Once you are represented by an attorney, the Public Defender cannot speak with you.

Can I speak with a Public Defender if I have not been appointed by the court

No. Unfortunately, the services of the Public Defender are extended to only those who have been appointed an attorney by the court.

Where is your Office?

Who is my attorney?

After a court appoints counsel to represent you, the office will assign an attorney to represent you—usually within 48 hours. Please contact our office at (208) 287-7400 five business days after you have been appointed counsel. Excluding national holidays, our office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Alternatively, after our office has assigned an attorney to represent you, your case will be updated online with the name of your assigned attorney. You can look up your case online at any time by accessing the iCourt Portal, which is the court’s online records and payments database.

How do I contact my attorney?

Call the Public Defender’s Office. Our office number is (208) 287-7400. Our friendly receptionists will be more than happy to connect you to your lawyer’s office. Excluding national holidays, our office is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Anytime you must leave a voicemail for your attorney, always remember to speak slowly and clearly. Leave your complete name, your case number (if you know it), a telephone number, and the best time for your attorney to reach you.

When is my court date?

Call the Public Defender’s Office. Our office number is (208) 287-7400. Our friendly receptionists will be more than happy to tell you when your next court appearance is. Excluding national holidays, our office is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Alternatively, you may also lookup your case by using Idaho’s iCourt Portal. Court records, including hearings, are made available by the Idaho Supreme Court to provide the status of court cases in the state of Idaho.

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

Call our office immediately! If you don’t know when your court date is, do not put off calling to find out. Our receptionists are more than happy to tell you. Missing a court date can have bad consequences, frequently resulting in an arrest warrant. Our office number is (208) 287-7400. Excluding national holidays, our office is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Alternatively, you may also lookup your case by using Idaho’s iCourt Portal. Court records, including hearings, are made available by the Idaho Supreme Court to provide the status of court cases in the state of Idaho.

If I cannot make it to court, what should I do?

Call our office immediately! Our receptionists will direct your call to your attorney. Missing a court date without contacting our office first can have bad consequences, frequently resulting in an arrest warrant. Letting us know beforehand will help. Our office number is (208) 287-7400. Excluding national holidays, our office is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

I've missed my court date. What should I do?

If you are represented by our office, call us immediately! You will need to consult with an attorney. Our office receptionists will direct you to someone that can help.

It is better to work with your attorney to deal with a warrant than it is to ignore the warrant and take your chances on being arrested and jailed. It is often helpful if you can explain why you did not appear in court. If there is a written record (a letter from a doctor, or your employer) that explains your failure to appear in court, the judge may consider giving you another chance rather than putting you in jail.

Our office number is (208) 287-7400. Excluding national holidays, our office is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

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

If you are already represented by the Ada County Public Defender, call our office and give the receptionist your case number, or your full name and date of birth. That information will be sufficient to determine whether there is a warrant for your arrest.

If a warrant is pending, you will need to consult with an attorney in our office. It is better to work with your attorney to deal with a warrant, than it is to ignore the warrant and take your chances on being arrested and jailed. It is often helpful if you can explain why you did not appear in court. If there is a written record (a letter from a doctor, or your employer) that explains your failure to appear in court, the judge may consider giving you another chance rather than putting you in jail.

Our office number is (208) 287-7400. Excluding national holidays, our office is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Will my Public Defender fight for me?

Without a doubt! We fight tirelessly, fearlessly, and with the utmost compassion and respect for our clients. Our number one priority as public defenders is to provide zealous representation to all who have been accused of a criminal offense, but are unable to afford to hire private defense counsel.

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

Yes! Once our office is appointed to represent you, we will be happy to speak with you. Being charged with a criminal offense can be a stressful period. It’s perfectly reasonable that you would want to speak with an attorney. The best way to reach your attorney is by calling the Public Defender’s office. Our office number is (208) 287-7400. Excluding national holidays, our office is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

If English is not my primary language, can I have an interpreter?

Absolutely! Whenever necessary, your public defender will obtain the assistance of an interpreter when you meet to discuss your case. The court will provide one for you during all court proceedings so that you are able to clearly communicate and understand everything that is going on in your case. A few of our clerical staff are fluent in Spanish and can provide assistance, if necessary.

Will what I say to a public defender employee be kept confidential?

Yes. Defendants convicted of a criminal offense have the right to appeal their conviction. Your attorney will start the process by filing a Notice of Appeal with the court. If you are appealing from a magistrate court’s decision, our office will represent you. If you are appealing from a district court’s decision, we will request that the State Appellate Public Defender represent you. The State Appellate Public Defender’s employees are not employees of this office, but they are highly skilled in criminal defense at the appellate level.

I was convicted of a crime a number of years ago. Can I get that conviction off my record?

Idaho does not offer a way to expunge your criminal record. However, you may qualify for a dismissal of your prior criminal charge. If you are a prior client of the office for the case for which you wish to obtain a dismissal, please contact our office and our receptionists will direct your call accordingly. If you wish to obtain a dismissal for a case on which you did not have court-appointed counsel, you will need to file an application for the Public Defender to represent you. Applications may be obtained from the Clerk’s Office at the Ada County Courthouse.

My attorney never answers the phone when I call. Why?

Our attorneys can be difficult to reach at times. Often, they are away from their desks—in court, visiting clients at the jail, or in meetings. If you are unable to reach your attorney by phone, you should leave a voicemail for him or her with your name, case number (if you have it handy), why you are calling, and a number and time you can be reached. You can also write a letter to your lawyer or ask your lawyer if there is a time that is best for you to call.

I am unhappy with my public defender. Can I get another lawyer?

The short answer is, no. The right to court-appointed counsel does not extend to the right to choose which one. If you are our client, we want to do our very best to address any concerns you have about your attorney. First, you should discuss the problem with your lawyer—he or she may be able to fix the problem. If that does not work, you should address your concerns in writing to the Chief Public Defender, Anthony Geddes. Mr. Geddes will answer all written concerns you have with your current attorney. You may hand deliver your letter to our receptionists at our front desk, or you may mail your letter to Mr. Geddes directly (200 West Front Street, Room 1107, Boise, Idaho 83702). All concerns regarding your attorney must be in writing.

What is an Arraignment?

An arraignment is a formal reading of a criminal charging document in a defendant’s presence. The hearing is held to inform the defendant of the charges filed against him or her and it is an opportunity for the judge to advise the defendant of his or rights. A defendant is usually expected to enter a plea at this time.

In misdemeanor cases, the arraignment is also a defendant’s first appearance before the court. At this time, a defendant enters a plea, and the case is set for trial, if necessary.

In felony cases, an arraignment is not held until a defendant appears before a district judge. At the arraignment in district court, the defendant will be advised of his or her rights. It is at this hearing that a defendant may enter a plea. If no bond has been set prior to this hearing, bond will be argued. If the defendant enters a not guilty plea, the case will be set for trial.

What is a Video Arraignment?

In Ada County, a video arraignment is conducted over a live video stream between a courtroom at the Ada County Jail and a courtroom at the Ada County Courthouse. It is a defendant’s first appearance in court. Prior to this hearing, jail staff will hand out “Bond Information” sheets to inmates scheduled to appear. A Public Defender will be present at the jail for this hearing and will represent inmates not currently represented by other counsel. The information an inmate provides on the “Bond Information” sheet will be used by our office to argue bond on behalf of the inmate. The “Bond Information” sheet will not be shared with the court or the prosecutor.

What is a Preliminary Hearing?

A preliminary hearing is hearing to find probable cause, which is held only in felony cases and conducted before a magistrate. While a preliminary hearing sounds very similar to a trial, they are very different. In a trial, the prosecutor is required to prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor need only convince the judge that 1) a crime has been committed and 2) that the evidence presented satisfies the elements of the charged offense.

If the judge is convinced by the prosecutor’s presentation, the defendant’s case is referred, or “bound over,” to the district court and set for arraignment. If the prosecutor fails to present adequate evidence, the judge may dismiss the case, or the charge may be reduced to a less serious offense. A dismissal of a felony offense does not prevent the prosecutor from re-filing the charges against a defendant.

A defendant can waive their right to a preliminary hearing. If a defendant waives his/her right to a preliminary hearing, the defendant’s case is referred, or “bound over,” to the district court and set for arraignment. If a defendant waives their right to a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor will be relieved of their burden of presenting evidence to the magistrate. For this reason, the prosecutor frequently attempts to resolve a case at this stage of criminal proceedings.

Frequently, the prosecutor attempts to resolve a case at the preliminary hearing stage. If a defendant wishes to take advantage of the prosecutor’s offer, the court will require that the defendant waive the preliminary hearing. If a defendant agrees to waive a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor will be relieved of their burden of presenting their evidence to the magistrate.

What is bail / bond?

Bail/bond is an amount of money that a defendant (or someone on his or her behalf) must pay to be released from jail. It’s intended purpose is to assure the court that the defendant will appear at future court hearings.

What is R.O.R. / O.R.?

“R.O.R.,” or sometimes referred to as “O.R.,” means being released on one’s own recognizance. It is one’s promise that they will appear at future court hearings without having to post bail. Typically, those released by R.O.R. have pre-trial release conditions.

What is a plea bargain?

Often called a “Rule 11,” a plea bargain is an agreement reached by the prosecutor and the defense to settle a criminal case. After our office has received police reports from the prosecutor (commonly referred to as “Discovery”), your attorney will discuss your case with the handling prosecutor. The prosecutor will offer a “plea bargain” to settle the case without a trial. Your attorney will discuss the prosecutor’s offer with you.

Typically, if you accept the prosecutor’s offer, you will have to plead guilty to the charged offense, a less serious charge than those currently pending against, and/or pay a specified amount of money to the victim of your case for a dismissal of the charges.

The decision to accept a prosecutor’s offer or go to trial is probably the most difficult decision any defendant will make. Our office is committed to offering you all the information, advice, and counsel we can so that you make the best decision. Ultimately, the decision to accept the prosecutor’s offer or to fight your case at trial is yours, and yours alone. It is important to remember that our attorneys are skilled and knowledgeable trial lawyers. If you wish to go to trial, you can be assured that you will be provided with zealous representation from a dedicated advocate.

what is a "Rider"?

A period of retained jurisdiction, commonly referred to as a “Rider,” is a sentencing option available to district judges in Idaho. Persons both convicted of a felony offense, and sentenced to a “Rider,” are incarcerated in a prison operated by the Idaho Department of Correction. While a person sentenced to a “Rider” is in prison, the judge retains control over the defendant while they receive treatment and participate in various programs.

Sentencing judges can place the defendant on probation upon the successful completion of the “Rider,” or the judge can relinquish jurisdiction and keep the defendant in prison based on the defendant’s behavior and progress during this period.

What is a "Rule 35"?

A motion for reconsideration of sentence, commonly referred to as a “Rule 35 Motion,” is essentially a plea for leniency, which may be granted if a sentence was, for any reason, unduly severe. A common misconception regarding such a motion is that filing the motion will automatically cut a defendant’s sentence in half; that is not true. Such motion are left to the discretion of the sentencing judge, which means the court can deny such a motion without a hearing, or any additional evidence. Traditionally, “Rule 35 Motions” are used as ways to present the court evidence that was not available at the time of sentencing, such as programs, treatment, or education the offender is participating, or has participated, in since being sentenced to prison. After the passage of time, such motions are sometimes a way for a judge to revisit what may have been a difficult decision. These motions are rarely granted.

To meet the objectives of sentencing, judges take factors into consideration when imposing sentence: the protection of society, the deterrence of crime, the rehabilitation of the offender, and retribution. Judges take those factors, sentencing arguments offered by the prosecutor and defense, and reports, evaluations, victim statements, and letters in support of the defendant into consideration when imposing a sentence. A “Rule 35 Motion” needs to be supported with evidence that diminishes, or mitigates, what has already been taken into consideration. A “Rule 35 Motion” needs to include the accomplishments of the offender since being sentence that demonstrates to the court that the imposed sentence was too harsh. Some examples of material that would support such a motion are:

  • Letters from guards, instructors, counselors, probation/parole officers, etc., as to the offender’s progress and/or efforts.
  • Any job information regarding the offender’s efforts to obtain employment.
  • Any and all treatment programs the offender has enrolled in or has attempted to enroll in, counseling sessions attended, and certificates of said same.
  • Letters from friends and family stating that the offender has a place to live, that they will assist the offender in finding employment, and that they are willing to assist the offender so that they can make it on probation/parole.
  • A probation/parole plan that includes residence, employment, and counseling.

“Rule 35 Motions” must be filed within 120 days after the filing of a judgment of conviction, within 120 days after the court relinquishes jurisdiction, or 14 days upon the revocation of probation.

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

If your friend or family member is arrested, and you are trying to get information, the most important thing you can tell them is that while they are in jail, DO NOT discuss the facts of the case with anyone. Do not talk to the police. Do not talk to other inmates. Do not talk to your friends or family over the phone or over video conference. Only conversations a defendant has with his/her attorney are protected by the attorney-client privilege. Excluding conversations with an attorney, law enforcement and prosecutors review inmate phone calls and video visits. Except for conversations with a lawyer, ALL CONVERSATIONS AND VIDEO VISITS ARE RECORDED.

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

If your friend or loved one is in custody, bail is typically set at a video arraignment. A public defender will be present at this hearing and argue for bail or R.O.R. on our client’s behalf based upon the information the client provides.

If they have been charged with a felony offense, and are still in custody when the Public Defender assigns the case to an attorney, a motion to reduce bail will be filed on our client’s behalf. Bail will normally be argued again at the next available hearing.

Can I speak with my friend/relative's public defender?

As criminal defense attorneys, our number one priority is to our client. Anything a client tells his/her attorney is confidential. Unless you are a witness or an alleged victim, without permission from the client, we will not discuss matters of your friend/relative’s case with you. Additionally, even if permission has been given by the client to discuss their case with you, it is within the discretion of the handling attorney as to whether they will discuss their client’s case with you.

Conversations between you and our client are not confidential. You should refrain from discussing with your friend/relative about his or her case. ALL PHONE CALLS from the Ada County Jail or prison are recorded and reviewed by law enforcement officials and prosecuting attorneys. Phone calls between your friend/relative and his or her attorney are not recorded.

Can I get a copy of my friends/relative's police report?

No. Client files retained by the Public Defender are protected by the attorney-client privilege and attorney work-product doctrine. This office will not disclose any materials from a client’s file to anyone other than the client.

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

No. If law enforcement questions you, it is essential to keep in mind Miranda warnings: “You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can be used against you in court; you have the right to an attorney; if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for 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 happens if I'm in custody and the police want to speak with me or place me in a lineup?

Ask to have a lawyer represent you. Before questioned by police regarding a crime, law enforcement must advise you of your 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.