Many questions may be addressed when you meet with your Deputy Public Defender. Nonetheless, this page is provided to address some common questions and issues for your convenience.
Disclaimer: This site is meant to provide information of a general nature which you should verify with an attorney before relying upon it. It does not provide legal advice and is not meant to establish an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice you should ALWAYS contact an attorney.
Absolutely! All Deputy Public Defenders are full-fledged attorneys who are members of the State Bar and have been licensed to practice law in the State of California. In order to become a Deputy Public Defender, any individual who has already passed the State Bar examination must also go through a rigorous interview and oral examination to ascertain whether he or she has the intellectual ability, the legal knowledge, and the commitment to practice criminal defense law.Throughout their entire careers as Deputy Public Defenders, all attorneys are further required to continue their legal education by attending regular classes and seminars regarding any advances in the practice of criminal defense law.
The primary responsibility of the Public Defender's Office is to ensure the representation of any person -- whether in custody or not -- who has been accused of a crime, but is currently unable to afford to hire private defense counsel.If you have been arrested and remain in custody, you will be brought to a local court usually within 48 hours of your arrest. If you are not in custody, you will be given a time and place to appear for your first court date. The first court date is called the arraignment. When you first appear in court for your arraignment, you may appear with private counsel.If you are not able to hire a private attorney the judge will ask you if you intend to hire an attorney, or if you are requesting the Public Defender be appointed to represent you. The court may make inquiry as to your financial resources, but more commonly, the court appoints our office to represent you and schedules your next two court dates. You will be directed to contact the Public Defenders office and fill out a financial evaluation form.The County of Napa requires that this form be completed, disclosing your income and assets. A Public Defender employee will be able to assist you in filling out this form. An initial determination as to whether you are eligible for our services will be made by the Public Defenders Office. If you are told you do not qualify for our services and you believe you should, simply notify our staff and the matter will be calendared for an eligibility hearing before a Judge or Commissioner so that the judge can determine if you are entitled to appointed counsel. No person will be denied representation due to their inability to pay for attorney services.When you first come to our office all misdemeanor defendants will be able to schedule an appointment with the attorney who will represent you until the conclusion of their case. If you are charged with a felony, the file will be reviewed to select the most appropriate attorney and you will be asked to call the office within a day or two to schedule your first appointment with the lawyer who will remain with you until the conclusion of your case.If you are in custody when the Public Defender is appointed, the court will notify us that we now represent you and we will send your attorney to the jail to interview as soon as possible. It is important that your deputy public defender have a copy of the police reports and charges before they interview you. At your first meeting, the deputy public defender will explain the court process and the nature of the charges against you.
If you are charged with a misdemeanor and we have your case number available, the receptionist will be able to determine whom your attorney is and schedule an appointment. You can leave a message via voice mail for that attorney, if you have already met with him or her. Each time you have to leave a telephone message for your attorney or speak with a receptionist, always remember to speak slowly and clearly. Leave your complete name, your case number, your next court date (if you know it), a telephone number, and the best time for your attorney to contact you. If you leave repeated messages which are not returned, please check with the receptionist to make sure you are contacting the right attorney. If you still do not get a call back, ask for a supervisor, or submit a written request.
Call the Public Defender's Office. Provide the receptionist with your full name. She will ask you whether it is a felony or a misdemeanor. If you do not know, that is OK. She will still be able to tell you who your attorney is. If your case is in warrant status, or if you are facing a Violation of Probation, you may be assigned a different attorney than the original.
Most criminal appearances are scheduled in the Criminal Courts Building located at 1111 Third Street in downtown Napa. They are usually scheduled in Department D or E, located on the second floor of the building. Family support matters (civil child support) are often scheduled in the Historic Courthouse located at 825 Brown Street in downtown Napa. These courts are virtually across the street from one another. If you are a juvenile, your hearing will be scheduled at the Juvenile Hall courtroom located at the juvenile probation facility at 2350 Old Sonoma Road in Napa. You can always call the Public Defenders Office and the receptionist or your attorney can tell you where you should be. All courts are concerned with security issues. Most have metal detectors and limitations on what you can bring into a courthouse. Even seemingly harmless items, such as food, beverages and nail clippers can result in confiscation or delays in entering the building. Cell phones must be turned off in all courtrooms.
You might, but it depends on your personal financial situation. Under California law, every person who is represented by a court-appointed attorney, including the Public Defender's Office, may be asked to pay a registration fee of up to $25 to the County of Napa. You will not be forced to pay anything if you cannot afford to pay the registration fee.
When your case ends, if you have been represented by appointed counsel, such as the Public Defender's Office, the judge may conduct a hearing to determine whether or not you have the present ability to pay all -- or a portion of -- the costs of your court-appointed attorney. At this hearing, depending upon your income and expenses, the judge may order you to pay for the cost of the services of your attorney, some of the cost -- or none. If the judge determines you have the ability to pay some or all of the costs, you will be ordered to pay according to your financial situation and the level of service provided. If you cannot afford to pay, you will not be required to do so. In the past, most defendants were not required to pay. Now, in each case, the court will make enquiry into your ability to reimburse.
The County of Napa has entered into contracts with two other law offices to provide representation for those who are not able to be served by the Public Defenders Office. This may occur, for example, when our office already represents another defendant accused in the same case, or the defendant happens to be a witness against another public defender client in a separate case. This is called a "conflict of interest." Attorneys who work for these two law offices are not employees of the Public Defender's Office. These two law firms are the Offices of Mervin Lernhart and the Office of Peter Firpo. Mervin Lernhart can be reached at (707) 255-5150. Peter Firpo can be contacted at 888-274-7778.When both contract law firms and the Public Defender cannot represent a client because of a conflict of interest, the court then appoints a private attorney. Those attorneys, likewise, are not employees of the Public Defender's Office.
No. If you are accused of a crime and cannot afford to hire your own attorney, the court will usually appoint the Public Defender's Office to represent you. However, in some situations, a "conflict of interest" may arise, which would make it impossible for our office to effectively work on your behalf. A good example of this might be where our office is already representing another defendant accused in the same case. In that event the court will appoint an attorney from one of the contract law office listed above, or an attorney in private criminal defense practice. The attorneys who accept such appointments are not employees of the Public Defender, even though they have been appointed by the court.
A misdemeanor is defined as a crime that is punishable by fine and/or imprisonment in a County jail for one year or less. As in most criminal cases, a misdemeanor prosecution starts with an arrest. However, unlike of a felony arrest, most persons charged with misdemeanors are detained only for a short time before they are released by police after promising to appear at their next court date by signing a citation that is known as a "promise to appear."
The police reports alleging illegal acts are then presented to the District Attorney who decides what charges, if any, should be filed. Occasionally, instead of filing misdemeanor charges, the prosecutor may choose to file a complaint alleging an infraction. Individuals who are accused of infractions cannot be sentenced to jail, nor are they entitled to the appointment of counsel at public expense.
Any person who has been arrested and then released from custody and given a court date and time must appear in court on that date, at that specific time! Failure to appear will result in the issuance of a warrant and possible arrest. Unfortunately, you cannot assume that the court will understand that you had to work that day, you overslept, or your child was sick. If you have failed to appear in court when required, it is always better to contact court services and arrange to surrender, rather than to wait until the police find and arrest you. You have a much better chance of walking out of the courtroom if you appear in court as soon a possible after your failure to appear. If you do not act very quickly to appear in court, additional criminal charges may be filed. You should notify your Deputy Public Defender when you will appear.
It is not uncommon for a person to be arrested on misdemeanor charges, then released, only to appear in court and discover that no charges have been filed. Occasionally, this is because the charges have been rejected by the prosecution; other times, the decision as to where the District Attorney wants to file charges might have been delayed.
Once a case has been filed, the first step in the criminal process is arraignment. This is usually the time the defendant first appears in court, is informed of the charges, and enters a plea. The Deputy Public Defender who handles misdemeanor arraignments in that particular court will discuss the case with you, and a plea will be entered. The usual pleas are "not guilty," "guilty," or "no contest." If you are in custody at arraignment on a misdemeanor charge, your lawyer may make a motion to dismiss based on failure of the police reports to establish that a crime has been committed. If you have been charged for something you simply did not do -- or the charges are far more serious than the offense for which you are actually responsible -- or your attorney feels there is insufficient evidence to convict you, he or she might advise you to take the case to trial.
In misdemeanor cases that are not likely to go to trial, it is not unusual for your attorney to settle the case on your behalf and with your consent, either at arraignment, or at a pretrial hearing which is usually held a couple of weeks later. Some misdemeanor cases settle for a fine and probation, without any jail time. However, some misdemeanor charges can carry a sentence of as much as one year in the county jail (a few have a mandatory minimum jail sentence) as the possible punishment.
Only by knowing the particular facts of your case, your prior criminal record, if any, and your current situation, is it possible to accurately predict how your case will settle.
A misdemeanor case that is not going to be resolved with a plea must generally go to trial within 30 days if the defendant was in custody at the arraignment -- or within 45 days if the defendant is out of custody. Cases are often continued to allow defense attorneys to gather the necessary evidence and interview any possible witnesses. Before trial, the defense attorney may make various motions, including a motion to suppress unlawfully obtained evidence by the police and motions for the prosecutor or the police to disclose evidence which might help the defense. "
An adult criminal defendant has the right to a trial by a jury. This is where 12 jurors, who are called "the finders of fact," listen to all the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense and decide what is proved and what is not. The judge's role in a jury trial is to make sure that both the prosecution and the defense adhere to all the rules of evidence when presenting their case to the jury.
At trial, the prosecution must try to prove the client's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. All 12 jurors must agree in order to either convict or acquit. If the jury cannot agree, a "mistrial" will be declared by the court, and the case may be tried again before a different jury, it may be dismissed, or a case settlement may be agreed upon by the prosecution and the defense.
A defendant can also decide to have a judge hear the case, instead of a jury; this is called a "court trial." For this to happen, the prosecution must also agree. In a court trial, the prosecution still has to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, but this time, the judge is the "finder of fact" and must decide whether or not the defendant is guilty, while also making certain that both attorneys are abiding by all the rules of evidence.
If a defendant is found guilty, the judge will then impose a sentence. The possible range of sentence, which is set by various laws, may range from no jail and probation, to confinement in the county jail for up to one year.
Defendants who have been convicted after a trial have the right to appeal their conviction. This process is started by the trial attorney who, upon request of the client, will file a notice of appeal in the trial court within 30 days of the imposition of sentence. A lawyer who specializes in appeals will then be appointed by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court. It is important to keep that court informed of your current address. It is also important that you read and respond to all communications you receive from the other court. If there is anything you do not understand, call your attorney.
Yes. If you are charged with an offense that is filed in a court within the County of Napa, and you are unable to afford to hire an attorney, the Public Defender's Office is available to represent you, regardless of the state where you reside. The Public Defender's office also represents clients in extradition proceedings. Your residency, citizenship status, or the type of proceeding you are involved in may raise issues unique to your case, however, and should be discussed with the attorney who is assigned to represent you.
Absolutely. If you are charged with an offense that is filed in a court within the County of Napa, and you are unable to afford to hire a defense attorney, the Public Defender's Office is available to represent you, regardless of your citizenship status. The Public Defender's office also represents clients in extradition proceedings. Your residency, citizenship status, or the type of proceeding you are involved in may raise issues unique to your case, however, and should be discussed with the attorney who is designated to represent you.
The Public Defender's office does represent clients in extradition proceedings. However, extradition hearings do not usually address whether you have committed any crimes. The purpose is to determine if you are the person for whom the warrant has been issued.
The Public Defender will make arrangements to obtain the assistance of an interpreter. There is no charge to the client or witnesses for interpreter assistance. However, be sure to inform the receptionist or your lawyer that you need an interpreter. Often people may think they can understand enough English to "get by." Unfortunately, sometimes in court there might be special meanings of words which can make a critical difference in the handling of a case. Further, court proceedings can be confusing enough without adding the complication of unfamiliarity with the English language. If there is any doubt as to whether you can understand everything that is being said to you and about you, it is far safer to use the services of an interpreter.
An interpreter will be made available not only for interviews and consultations, but also for court proceedings, and during investigations. A few of our attorneys, clerical staff, and investigators are fluent in Spanish. If you need an interpreter for a language other than Spanish, it is important that you inform your lawyer as much in advance as possible. Occasionally it is helpful to use a family member who speaks some English to help make clear exactly which language and dialect is spoken by the person who needs assistance. Afterwards a court interpreter - one who is familiar with court terminology - will be obtained for whichever language or dialect is needed for you to be able to clearly communicate and understand everything that is going on in your case.
There are a variety of ways to get drug treatment when a person is charged with a crime. First time drug offenders may be eligible for Penal Code Section 1000 diversion, which results in the complete dismissal of charges upon successful completion. Napa County has drug court, in which people who are addicted to drugs can enroll in an intensive drug treatment program. Proposition 36 requires the state to offer drug treatment instead of incarceration if a person is convicted of certain drug possession offenses or drug use offenses. Under some circumstances, a person who is convicted of certain crimes and is addicted to drugs can be committed to the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) for drug treatment.
The traditional adversarial system of justice, designed to resolve legal disputes, has been determined not to be highly effective at addressing alcohol or drug abuse. Indeed, many features of the court system and the roles the justice system professionals play might actually contribute to alcohol or drug abuse instead of curbing it: traditional defense counsel and prosecutor functions and court procedures often reinforce the offender's denial of an alcohol or drug abuse problem. The offender may not be clinically assessed until months after arrest, if at all. Moreover, the criminal justice system is often an unwitting enabler of continuing drug use because few immediate consequences for continued drug use are imposed. When referrals to treatment are made, they can occur months or years after the offense and there is little or no inducement to complete the program from a legal standpoint.The mission of Drug Court is to stop the abuse of alcohol and other drugs and related criminal activity. Drug Court offer a compelling choice for individuals whose criminal justice involvement stems from drug use: participation in treatment. In exchange for successful completion of the treatment program, the court may dismiss the original charge, reduce or set aside a sentence, offer some lesser penalty, or offer a combination of these.Drug Courts transform the roles of both criminal justice practitioners and drug treatment providers. The judge is the central figure in a team effort that focuses on sobriety and accountability as the primary goals. Because the judge takes on the role of trying to keep participants engaged in treatment, providers can effectively focus on developing a therapeutic relationship with the participant. In turn, treatment providers keep the court informed of each participant's progress so that rewards and sanctions can be provided. Drug Courts create an environment with clear and certain rules. The rules are definite, easy to understand, and most important, compliance is within the individual's control. The rules are based on the participant's performance and are measurable. For example, the participant either appears in court or does not, attends treatment sessions or does not; the drug tests reveal drug use or abstinence. The participant's performance is immediately and directly communicated to the judge by the treatment provider, who rewards progress or penalizes noncompliance. A Drug Court establishes an environment that the participant can understand - a system in which clear choices are presented and individuals are encouraged to take control of their own recovery.Cases involving defendants charged with cases involving drugs who are potentially eligible for Drug Court treatment are identified by the District Attorney's Office, by the Probation Department, or by the defense attorney assigned to the case. Some candidates are excluded form participation in Drug Court based upon their prior record or the nature of their current offense. If a person is interested in Drug Court, the attorney advises the client of regarding the availability of such a program as well as other treatment options available. If the client decides to participate in our Drug Court, they must fill out a participation agreement and other documents prior to being accepted into the program.The treatment provider's court liaison will conduct a thorough interview of the client to determine the client's suitability for treatment as well as to identify any special needs this particular client might present. The focus of this case processing is to provide early intervention during this window of opportunity that the shock of arrest and incarceration creates. In an ideal case, a defendant can be participating in treatment within a week of his or her arrest.
There are programs available to minors to deal with problems involving drug abuse, mental health issues and specialized educational needs. These programs are provided through various state and county agencies and can be accessed by parents themselves or with the help of private advocates. If your child is represented by the Public Defender's Office, please alert the lawyer to any problems your child has with drugs, school or mental health so that our office can consider your child’s individual needs. Also, any records you have which relate to these problems should be shown to the lawyer. If the Juvenile Court is not made aware of the problems, the source of a behavioral problem might go undiscovered and untreated, and the child may not receive the full benefit of the resources available to the Court.
Appellate court litigation can occur either before or after conviction. It is sometimes necessary for the Public Defender to challenge an order of a trial court before conviction. Such challenges are called writ proceedings. Each Deputy Public Defender is responsible for any appropriate motions, including pre-trial writs.
The Public Defender's Office is generally permitted by law to handle post-conviction appeals in the appellate courts only for defendants who were represented by the Public Defender's Office in the trial court. The appellate process takes a very long time to be completed, and is a very specialized practice. The Public Defenders Office does not have an appellate staff to enable us to routinely handle post-conviction appeals. Other counsel is available to be appointed for the appeal. Upon request of the client, the Deputy Public Defender who represented the defendant will file the documents in the trial court necessary for starting the appellate process and to obtain the appointment of appellate counsel. There are very specific and short time frames within which to file an appeal. Please notify your Deputy Public Defender promptly, in order to timely file your notice of appeal and request for appointment of appellate counsel.
A writ of habeas corpus is an order directing authorities to bring the defendant before a court to determine whether keeping the defendant in custody is legal or not. It is also a way of challenging the constitutionality of a conviction.
If a habeas corpus petition needs to be filed in a pending case that is already being handled by our office, the Public Defender will do so. If the nature of the writ of habeas corpus relates to a condition of confinement at the Napa County Department of Corrections, you will be asked to first utilize the jail’s administrative process. Also, the Department of Corrections must provide you with a writ of habeas corpus form which you can send directly to the court. The court assigns a judge to review such writs and determine if it should be set for a hearing or denied.The Public Defender may also agree to file a petition for writ of habeas corpus for a person after conviction, particularly in cases where the validity of the conviction itself is in issue, or where it appears that a person is being unlawfully detained in custody.
The attorney-client privilege concerns the confidential communication between lawyer and client which cannot be disclosed to anyone without the consent of the client. This same privilege extends to all employees of the Public Defender's Office.
The Public Defender handles only criminal cases. The state law does not allow us to represent persons who want to file a civil lawsuit.
When an individual hires an attorney they are free to hire whomever they choose. In the Public Defenders Office cases are assigned by the Napa County Public Defender. Assignments are made based on the nature or seriousness of the charges, criminal record of defendant, courtroom to which the case is assigned and on the skill and experience level of the attorney, among many other factors. The Public Defender has an obligation to the public to make the best use of the resources available to her. We need to ensure that each attorney has sufficient time to represent each client to the best of his ability. Consequently, defendants are not entitled to select which of the Deputy Public Defenders will represent them in the pending case.
It is understandable that defendants feel the system is not responsive to their needs or that they are not being treated fairly. Being charged with a criminal offense is often frightening and it is difficult to understand the legal process, jargon and consequences. The role of the defense attorney is to vigorously represent the interests of his or her client. This includes ensuring that the client is well-informed and understands what is happening to him or her. If a client is dissatisfied with the work of the Deputy Public Defender the client should submit a written request addressed to the Public Defender (Terry Davis) or the Chief Assistant Public Defender (Ronald Abernethy). The request should include your name, address, phone number, case number and who your Deputy Public Defender is. You should tell where you are in the process (for example: sentenced, or awaiting trial) and what problems you are having and what you would like to occur. You will get a phone call or written response within two working days. Direct you writing to Napa County Public Defender 1127 1st Street, Napa, California 94559.
The Public Defender's Office only handles criminal cases in criminal court. The best way to litigate any improper action by a judge is through appellate attorneys who represent clients in the appellate courts. However, an appellate attorney can only successfully appeal your case only if the judge, the District Attorney or even your own defense attorney did something significantly wrong.A defendant who has been convicted after a trial always have the right to appeal the conviction. This process is initiated by the trial attorney. Your Deputy Public Defender will file a notice of appeal in the trial court on your behalf if you wish to appeal your case. A lawyer who does not work for the Public Defender, and who specializes in appeals, will then be appointed by the Court of Appeal to represent you on appeal. That attorney will be the one who to consider what you can do about any complaints against any judge who you feel treated you badly during your criminal case.
No. Our system of justice gives the power to decide the guilt of every defendant to a jury of 12 people who have been carefully instructed by the judge, the prosecution, and the defense on how to make a fair and just assessment of a defendant's guilt or innocence. Juries cannot be sued; however, in some circumstances, the judge can use his or her discretion to override the decision of the jury if the court finds that the jurors were clearly mistaken or biased in reaching their verdict.
The interests of those who are victims of a crime are usually represented by the prosecutor's office, whose mandate is to see that those who victimize others are punished for their crimes. However, if you are a victim of a miscarriage of justice resulting from false police reports or other police misconduct, the Public Defender will defend you against criminal prosecution. The Public Defender is unable, by law, to pursue any civil case against your accusers. You may be the victim of a crime but are erroneously being prosecuted instead of being recognized as the victim. The Public Defender will defend you on the criminal charges.
In general, the Public Defender only represents persons subject to criminal prosecution, civil commitment, or contempt citation. The Public Defender's Office also represents individuals charged in criminal cases resulting from non-payment of child support, or those who are threatened with contempt because of an alleged violation of a civil court order for them to pay child support. Our office also represents those individuals who have been detained civilly through a conservatorship or other mental health commitment. In all other cases, the Public Defender does not represent individuals in civil cases, nor can our Office recommend any particular attorney or law firm.The State Bar of California provides a certified lawyer referral service. The State Bar is located at 1149 South Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90015-2299, 213-765-1000, and at 180 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94105-1639, 415-538-2000. The State Bar's web site is located at http://www.calbar.org .
A certificate of rehabilitation generally allows a person convicted of a crime to have his or her civil and political rights of citizenship restored. The granting of a certificate of rehabilitation also serves as an application to the Governor for a pardon. In order to qualify for a certificate of rehabilitation, a person must establish that he or she has lived an honest and upright life; that at least seven years have passed since the completion of the sentence, probation, or parole; there has been no further incarceration since his or her initial release from custody; and that he or she has resided in California for the past three years. Individuals convicted of some crimes, such as those that carry mandatory life parole terms and certain sex offenses, are not eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation.
Call our office at (707) 253-4442 and ask for assistance. Please have your full name, birth date, and case number if available.