Dallas County Public Defender's Office

Adult Criminal Section FAQ's

Frank Crowley Courts – 133 N. Riverfront Boulevard, 9th Floor, Dallas, Texas 75207

Are Assistant Public Defenders real attorneys?

Yes. All Assistant Public Defenders are full-fledged attorneys who are members of the State Bar and have been licensed to practice law in the State of Texas . In order to become an Assistant Public Defender, the individual must have been licensed to practice law for at least one year and must go through an interview process 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, Assistant Public Defenders are further required to continue their legal education by attending regular classes and seminars regarding any advances in the practice of criminal defense law.

Are all court-appointed attorneys Public Defenders?

No. A court-appointed attorney is any attorney who is appointed by the judge to represent an individual who cannot afford to hire his or her own attorney. A court-appointed attorney may be an attorney in private practice or an Assistant Public Defender. Private practice attorneys represent clients who have personally hired them as well as clients to whom they are appointed. I f appointed, they are paid a fee by the court for each case they handle.

Assistant Public Defenders are employed by the county, and only represent individuals they are appointed by a judge to represent. Assistant Public Defenders are paid an annual salary, not per case.

Do Assistant Public Defenders work for the state?

Assistant Public Defenders are employed by Dallas County . However, they do not work for the District Attorney who is prosecuting the case on behalf of the government or for the judge who appoints them. Once appointed on a case, an Assistant Public Defender's primary duty is to her client.

How can you defend someone you know is guilty?

A defense lawyer's belief in a client's guilt or innocence is totally irrelevant. That determination is the job of the judge or jury under our adversarial system of justice.  Every person charged by the government is entitled to zealous representation. Additionally, our job is to make sure the government doesn't punish a guilty client unfairly as it is to see that it doesn't convict an innocent person. We believe that criminal defense lawyers are really constitutional defense lawyers; we are the last line of defense between the individual rights and liberty of all citizens and the potentially misguided, overzealous exercise of power by our government. If it weren't for criminal defense attorneys tirelessly challenging the power of the government to intrude into individuals' lives, no one would be safe from unreasonable government intrusion.

How do I get an Assistant Public Defender?

All indigent defendants-defendants who cannot afford to hire their own attorney-are entitled to a court-appointed attorney. If you are in the county jail and the court determines that you are indigent, you will be appointed an attorney within 24 hours. If you are on bond and have not hired an attorney by the time of your first court appearance, the court will determine if you are eligible for a court-appointed attorney. If the court determines that you are indigent, you will be appointed either a private court-appointed attorney or an Assistant Public Defender. Assistant Public Defenders cannot be hired.

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

Generally, no. An Assistant Public Defender cannot provide legal advice to you unless she has been appointed by the court to be your attorney.

Can I fire my Assistant Public Defender?

The court appoints attorneys according to established procedures. Indigent defendants are not entitled to choose a particular attorney to be appointed to represent him or her. Once appointed, an attorney may only be removed from the case by the judge for good cause.

Can I still hire an attorney after I have been appointed an Assistant Public Defender?

Yes. If you can afford to hire an attorney, you are not indigent and should not be represented by an Assistant Public Defender. However, if you were indigent when you were appointed an attorney, and circumstances have changed (such as friends or family contributing money to assist you), you may hire your own attorney to replace your Assistant Public Defender.

I was appointed an Assistant Public Defender while I was in jail. I bonded out of jail. Will I be able to keep my Assistant Public Defender?

This depends on your individual circumstances. While many courts consider your ability to post a bond as a factor in determining if you are indigent, this is not the sole factor. If you were appointed an Assistant Public Defender while you were in jail, many courts will reevaluate whether you are indigent. If the Court determines that you are still indigent, it will instruct your Public Defender to remain on your case.

My case has been set for court, but I do not have an attorney. What should I do?

You must appear for your court date whether or not you have an attorney. If you do not have an attorney by the time of your first court appearance, but are not indigent, the court will give you a reasonable time to hire an attorney. If you are unable to hire an attorney, you should inform the court of this fact at your first court appearance. If the Court determines that you are still indigent, it will instruct your Public Defender to remain on your case.

Can my Assistant Public Defender represent me on other cases that I have?

Generally, no.  An Assistant Public Defender may only represent you in the matter she has been appointed. If you are being sued, have immigration problems, are being evicted, etc., you may qualify for assistance from other agencies.

Will my Assistant Public Defender do a better job for me if I pay him or her?

No. Assistant Public Defenders have a duty to zealously represent all clients to whom they are appointed. They are paid by the county and may not accept compensation for their representation.

Where is the Public Defender's Office located?

The Public Defender's Office is located on the 9 th floor of the Frank Crowley Criminal Courts Building.

I have been appointed an Assistant Public Defender. How do I contact him or her?

You may contact your Assistant Public Defender by calling the Dallas County Public Defender's Office at (214) 653-3550 or by writing a letter to the Office at 133 N. Riverfront Blvd. , LB2, Dallas , TX 75207 . The Public Defender's Office cannot accept collect calls.

When is the best time of day to reach my Assistant Public Defender?

Because Assistant Public Defenders typically spend the morning hours in court attending to clients who have court settings that day, the best time to reach your Assistant Public Defender is in the afternoon. While you are most likely to reach your Assistant Public Defender in the afternoon, they will often have duties outside the office such as field investigations, trials, and other court hearings that may make them unavailable for the entire day. If you have an urgent matter related to your case, you should inform the receptionist in the Public Defender's Office.

I forgot the name of my Assistant Public Defender. How can I find out who is representing me?

You may get this information by calling the Public Defender's Office or the clerk of the court in which your case is assigned.

My family member does not speak English. Can an Assistant Public Defender still represent him?

Yes. In addition to employing a number of Assistant Public Defenders who speak Spanish, the Public Defender's Office also employs a full-time Spanish interpreter. If the defendant speaks a language other than English or Spanish, the court will pay for a licensed interpreter to assist with the case.

I am not a U.S. citizen and am charged with a crime. What will happen to me?

All indigent defendants are entitled to a court-appointed attorney regardless of their citizenship or legal status in the United States . However, because many criminal convictions can subject a non-citizen to deportation, exclusion from the country, and/or a denial of naturalization, you should always inform your attorney if you are not a U.S. citizen.

I got arrested. I posted a bond. What happens next?

You must come to court on your court date. Oftentimes, you will be given a court date upon release from jail. At other times, your bonding company will provide you with a court date; it is important to maintain regular contact with your bonding company. On occasion, neither the jail nor your bonding company will provide you with a court date. In this event it is your responsibility to contact them for this information. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to ensure that you are present and on time for all your court dates.

When is my next court date?

To find out when your next court appearance is scheduled, you may contact the clerk of the court in which your case is assigned. You may also wish to contact your attorney or your bail bond company.

Where is my next court date?

All felony and misdemeanor court appearances are at the Frank Crowley Criminal Courts Building, 133 N. Riverfront Blvd. , Dallas , TX 75207 .

What is the bond set on my case?

You may determine your bond amount by contacting your attorney or by calling the clerk of the court in which your case is assigned.

I missed my court date. What should I do?

Contact your attorney or bail bond company immediately. It may be necessary to post a new bond because a warrant may already be active.

I am innocent. What can I do to make the case go away?

All too often, innocent people are arrested and find themselves in the complicated machinery of the criminal justice system. It takes time, patience, and above-all cooperation with one's attorney to successfully navigate a way out the machine. Listen to your attorney's advice and take no action without contacting him or her. Actions such as contacting an alleged victim or communicating directly to the prosecutor or judge can quickly harm your case and, if misconstrued, result in new charges.

I was arrested for this charge before and the case was dropped. How can they charge me again?

There are several possible answers to this question. In all likelihood, the State arrested you but did not file the charges in time to hold you in jail. In that case, you are released, and when the charges are filed, a warrant is issued for your arrest. This is known as filing a case "at-large" because the suspect is not in State custody but is at large in the free world. This is very common in drug cases because the State often tests "drug evidence" before charging someone to ensure that the seized material is, in fact, illegal contraband.

Another possibility is that after initially being arrested and having the case dismissed without prejudice, the State has discovered additional evidence or corrected a legal problem in their case and decided to prosecute you using their new evidence or a new theory of prosecution.

Finally, it is possible that you were acquitted in a trial and a "not guilty" verdict was entered but the State has mistakenly charged you again. In this rare event your attorney will need to file a special plea that you have previously been prosecuted and the former prosecution resulted in an acquittal.

The police never read me rights. What does this mean?

It depends. Generally, the government may not use any statements you made against you if you made those statements while in custody and in response to police questioning unless they first informed you of your rights. This issue must, however, be decided by a judge after evaluating the specific facts in your case. Additionally, the fact that you were not read your rights does not mean that the charges against you must be dismissed. If you made any statements to the police without being informed of your rights, you should be sure to discuss this issue with your attorney.

How can I get probation?

Probation is an available punishment in every misdemeanor and felony offense (except capital murder). Probation is not a right. Probation is only granted if a prosecutor agrees to it, or a judge or jury chooses to grant it. Prosecutors may not agree to probation in every case, even first offenses. You should speak with your attorney about the possibility of getting probation and what you can do, if anything, to receive it. However, probation is not a slap on the wrist. It is a serious obligation you must fulfill. Failure to live up to the conditions of your probation can result in jail or prison time. If you have any questions about what you will be expected to do if you are placed on probation, you should discuss these with your attorney before you agree to any probation sentence.

What is a 12.44 and how can I get one on my case?

"12.44" is a reference to the Texas Penal Code, section 12.44. This section allows a trial court to impose a Class A misdemeanor punishment (up to one year in county jail and up to a $4000 fine) instead of state jail felony punishment (between 180 days and two years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine). This decision is made by the trial court, which considers "the gravity and circumstances of the felony committed and the history, character, and rehabilitative needs of the defendant." Most judges will only consider a "12.44" if the prosecutor recommends it. In most cases, a defendant who receives a 12.44 receives a felony conviction with misdemeanor punishment, but it is also possible to receive only a misdemeanor conviction. A 12.44 is available only in state jail felony cases. "12.44"s are the exception, not the rule, in state jail felony cases. If you are charged with a state jail felony, and are interested in the possibility of receiving a 12.44, you should discuss this with your attorney.

What is an indictment?

An indictment is a written document issued by a grand jury that accuses a person of a criminal act or omission. A grand jury is a group of citizens - appointed for a limited term as representatives of the county population - that meets to evaluate the State's initial evidence and to determine if probable cause exists to prosecute someone generally for a felony offense. The Grand Jury does not determine a citizen's guilt or innocence but rather whether it is possible a crime took place.

What is a grand jury hearing?

Known as deliberation, the Grand Jury's meetings and proceedings are highly secretive. The local District Attorney's office controls these hearings. The grand jurors and prosecutors are allowed to question witnesses. The prosecutor presents evidence, in the form of witness testimony and possibly physical evidence, to the grand jurors who then deliberate and reach a decision regarding whether to charge (accuse) a citizen of a crime. A citizen suspect does not have a right to be present inside the deliberation room. A defense attorney is never permitted to be in the deliberation room.

My family member is represented by an Assistant Public Defender. Can I speak with his attorney about his case?

No attorney may share a client's privileged information with a third party, even the client's family members. However, if the client gives permission, the attorney may discuss non-privileged information about the case such as facts that are a part of the public record and the general status of the case. If you have information about your family member's case that you feel is important or would be helpful, you should discuss this information with his or her attorney.

How can I visit my family member in jail?

To visit a family member in jail, you must be on the inmate's approved visitor list. For jail visitation rules and times, you should contact the Dallas County Sheriff's Department at (214) 761-9025.

How can I give my family member money that he can use in jail?

You need to have your relative's book-in number, full name, and date of birth. You should go to the first floor of The Lew Sterrett Justice Center ("the county jail") and deposit cash at the Lobby Information window. The window is usually open twenty-four hours a day and generally an inmate can carry unlimited funds on her books. It is important to obtain a receipt.

How can I get my family member released from jail?

In most misdemeanor cases, you may either post a cash bond or post a surety bond through a bail bondsman. In some felony cases, your family member may qualify for pre-trial release by posting a small fee instead of a bond. For information on posting a cash bond, you should contact the jail at (214) 761-9025. For information on posting a surety bond, you should contact a bail bond company. For information on pre-trial release, you should contact the Dallas County Sheriff's Department.

My family member is charged with a crime. What he really needs is drug treatment. What can I do?

In many cases, the court will seek to address any substance abuse problems involved in a defendant's case. It is therefore important to communicate such vital information to your family member's attorney. She can act in your loved one's best interests while protecting such information.

My family member who is charged with a crime is mentally ill. What can I do?

In many cases, the court will seek to consider and address mental health issues in some way when resolving a case involving a defendant with mental illness. It is therefore important to communicate such vital information to your family member's attorney. She can act in your loved one's best interests while protecting such information.

I want to help my friend or family member who has been charged with a crime. Should I write a letter to the judge or the District Attorney?

NO! You should always clear such information with your loved one's attorney first.

What do I do if I want to drop charges?

If you are the complainant in a criminal case, you may contact the District Attorney to file an affidavit of non-prosecution. If an attorney represents the defendant in the case, it is usually a good idea to speak with him or her before contacting the District Attorney. While any complainant may request that charges be dropped, only the District Attorney has the authority to dismiss the case.

I posted a cash bond. How do I get my money back?

If you posted a cash bond, you are entitled to a refund (minus an administrative fee) of your bond once your case has been resolved. To obtain a refund of your cash bond, you should speak with the clerk of the court in which your case was assigned. If you choose, the clerk can also assist you in applying your cash bond toward any fine or court costs you may owe.

Can I get my prior criminal case taken off my record?

If you had a criminal case which resulted in any of the following, you may be eligible for an Order of Non-Disclosure which seals your case from the public record: 1) you were found "not guilty" at trial, 2) your case was dismissed, 3) you successfully completed a deferred adjudication probation. If you believe you may be entitled to an Order of Non-Disclosure, you should hire an attorney. The Public Defender's Office does not do this type of work.

Will the Public Defender's Office represent me on appeal?

Generally, the Public Defender's Office does not represent individuals on their appeals. If you wish to appeal your case and you are indigent, you should contact the court and request that you be appointed an attorney to handle your appeal.

I want to sue the police department. Will the Public Defender's Office represent me?

No. The Public Defender's Office does not represent individuals in lawsuits against the police.

Can my Assistant Public Defender get me an occupational license?

No, because of high client demand and because the proceeding is civil in nature an Assistant Public Defender cannot secure an occupational driver's license for you. You should be aware that there is a filing fee to pursue such licenses in Dallas County . Additionally, while you can pursue such without an attorney, an attorney might be able to help you navigate through the procedure.

My driver's license is suspended. What should I do?

If your driver's license has been suspended, you should contact the Department of Public Safety to determine what steps you need to take to have your license reinstated. A good place to start is the Department of Public Safety Website: http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/ .