Frequently Asked Questions

1. If I am arrested, should I talk to the police?

No, if you are arrested, you should request to speak to a lawyer before answering questions by law enforcement.

2. How do I obtain the services of a public defender?

The Public Defender Office is appointed by the Court. If you are charged with a crime and cannot afford to hire an attorney, ask the Court to appoint a public defender at your first appearance. You will be asked to submit a financial declaration to determine your eligibility for appointed counsel. At the conclusion of a criminal case, the Court might require clients to reimburse the County for the services provided. Only people convicted are required to reimburse the County. The amount is determined by their ability to pay.

3. Are public defenders lawyers?

Yes, all public defenders are duly licensed lawyers authorized to practice law. The Fresno County Public Defender Office is widely recognized as having highly skilled trial lawyers. Experienced trial lawyers can become certified by the State Bar as Criminal Legal Specialists. Our office has more Criminal Legal Specialist than any other public defender office in California.

4. Who funds the Public Defender Office?

In 1963, the United States Supreme Court ruled that indigent defendants are entitled to court appointed counsel. Gideon v. Wainright. In order to comply with this mandate, Fresno County established the Public Defender Office. Additionally, the State of California also contributes funding for certain types of cases.

5. What is an arraignment?

If formal charges are filed against you, an arraignment will be scheduled. This is the time and place to request a public defender. A copy of the charges will be given to your attorney. Expect to have a plea of “not guilty” entered on your behalf and future dates will be scheduled.

The arraignment is not the time to present evidence; however, the Court will decide your custody status. The judge will listen to argument, and then determine whether to set bail or release you on your own recognizance or pre-trial services. Here are some factors the Court will consider:

  1. Is the person a flight risk? Includes ties to the community, and whether the person employed or a student.
  2. Is the person a danger to the community? Includes seriousness of the charges, and prior criminal history.

6. What is a bench warrant, and what can I do if I have one?

A bench warrant is issued by a judge when a person fails to appear in court. Police will attempt to execute the warrant by arresting the individual. If you have a bench warrant, you need to contact your attorney as soon as possible.

7. What can I do to help with my case?

  • You should never discuss the facts of your case with anyone but a lawyer or staff of the Fresno County Public Defender Office.
  • All jail calls/visits are recorded. These recordings will be used against you and possibly give rise to additional charges. It is imperative that you only discuss your case with members from our office. Never discuss your case with anyone else. This includes other inmates, jail staff, personal visitors, or personal telephone calls. Lastly, all non-legal mail is intercepted and copied. Anything in those letters will be used against you and possibly give rise to additional charges.
  • Keep our office apprised of your contact information. Immediately notify our office if your contact information changes. If you receive a letter from our office, contact your lawyer immediately. Make sure to keep your office/phone appointments.  
  • Provide your lawyer with a list of potential witnesses as soon as possible. Give the most recent contact information for your witnesses.
  • Come to all your court dates. If you miss court, even if you have a good excuse, there can be serious consequences. These include arrest and even new charges.
  • Dress appropriately for court. Avoid shorts and sandals. Common attire includes slacks, dress shirts, and ties. Dress like you are going to a job interview.

8. Does the Public Defender Office assist people with immigration law?

When a noncitizen of the United States is charged with a state crime, and our office has been appointed, our attorneys will provide information on the potential immigration consequences. An assessment of the potential immigration consequences depends upon a variety of factors, and requires detailed information about the client’s immigration and criminal history. Through negotiations with the prosecutor, public defenders will attempt to obtain an immigration-neutral plea and sentence.

Additionally, our office assists eligible clients with requests for post-conviction relief to overcome a criminal bar to an immigration benefit, or relief from removal. Many forms of relief are available through our Clean Slate Program. Other relief requires a more complex analysis and is generally not offered without a court appointment.

Courts do not appoint the Public Defender Office solely to provide immigration advice. Thus, our office does not give advice on immigration law to individuals who are not our clients. There are a number of free or low-cost screening and other consultations available in the Fresno area. Spanish speakers may access the list through this link: Central Valley Immigration Integration Collaborative Legal Services Directory Spanish

9. Why hasn’t my public defender obtained a dismissal of the charges?

Public defenders advocate for dismissals, but only prosecuting attorneys and judges can dismiss cases. Additionally, a complaining witnesses’ desire to proceed with the case is not controlling. Cases are filed in the name of the State of California, and not in the name of the complaining witnesses.

10. What happens in a trial?

The prosecutor will attempt to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, while your attorney will attempt to raise a doubt that the charges are true. Evidence at trial includes the following: witness testimony, pictures, blood analysis, video and audio recordings, social media postings, cell phone forensics, DNA, etc. A verdict must be unanimous. Through your lawyer, you will be able to question the witnesses against you and present evidence on your own behalf at no cost to you. Most trials are decided by a jury, but some are decided by a judge alone.

11. What happens at a sentencing hearing?

A sentencing hearing will take place only if you are found guilty or you agree to plead no-contest. The court proceeding is handled by the judge, who will use the recommendations of the probation officer, the prosecutor and your lawyer, to decide what sentence to impose. You have the right to speak at your sentencing hearing and present mitigating evidence.

12. Does the Public Defender Office help people who are seeking early parole pursuant to Proposition 57?

No, the parole authorities, not the courts, authorize early release under Proposition 57. As a result, we are unable to assist people in those proceedings.