What is a public defender?

A public defender is a lawyer appointed to represent people who are legally entitled to an attorney and who the court has determined are not financially able to employ their own counsel. These cases include criminal felony, misdemeanor, extradition, appellate cases, juvenile delinquency, juvenile dependency cases, guardianship, conservatorship and mental health commitment cases.  Public defenders are licensed to practice law in the State of Arizona and are only appointed after referral by the court to the Indigent Defense Coordinator.  The Indigent Defense Coordinator’s office can be reached at (520) 432-8458.

How do I get a public defender appointed to my case?

At your first court appearance or hearing, the court may ask if you are requesting an attorney be appointed to represent you.  If the court does not bring it up, ask the court if you are entitled to an appointed attorney in your case.  If you are out of custody, you have to complete a financial declaration and sign it under penalty of perjury before the court makes any determination about whether you qualify for the services of an appointed attorney. If you are in custody the court will usually refer your case to the Indigent Defense Coordinator for appointment of counsel without requiring that you fill out the financial declaration. 

Can I speak with a public defender if I already have an attorney?

No. While you are represented by another attorney, a public defender will not speak with you about your case.  

Can I drop by the public defender's office for legal advice if the court has not appointed an attorney for me?

No. The public defender is only allowed to represent defendants that are assigned to our office by the court.

Do clients have to pay for the services of the public defender?

Clients who are appointed a public defender are required to pay for legal services to the extent they are financially able. The court will determine a defendant’s financial responsibility based on the financial resources of the defendant and the nature of the burden any payment will impose on the defendant.

How can I help my attorney?

DO NOT discuss your case with anyone other than your public defender or a representative from this office.
Make sure that your attorney has a way to reach you at all times.  Provide your attorney with your change of address and phone number promptly.
Provide your attorney with a list of potential witnesses and character references early in your case.
Be on time for court hearings and meetings with your attorney.
Always dress appropriately for court.
DO NOT discuss your case on personal phone calls from the jail. Personal calls may be recorded.

What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?

A felony is a criminal offense for which a sentence to a term of imprisonment in the custody of the Arizona State Department of Corrections is authorized under Arizona law.

A misdemeanor is any criminal offense for which a sentence to anything other than a term of imprisonment in the custody of the Arizona State Department of Corrections is authorized under Arizona law.  

What is ERC?

ERC is Early Resolution Court.  It is a special docket where defendants are offered a quick resolution of a case in the form of a plea agreement before the case is brought to preliminary hearing or the grand jury.  If you are not entitled to an appointed attorney and your case is assigned to the ERC, you should retain an attorney to explain your options and any plea offers you receive in ERC.

How do I get my case into ERC?

The county attorney’s office alone makes the determination whether a case will be brought into ERC.  You cannot control whether your case is placed into ERC. 

What is the difference between a public defender and a legal defender?

The Legal Defender’s Office is similar to the Public Defender’s Office.  However, legal defenders represent defendants that the public defenders are not able to represent because of conflicts of interest or other legal reasons. 

How does the county decide if I get a public defender, a legal defender or a private contract attorney?

Generally, the Indigent Defense Coordinator refers cases first to the public defender for acceptance.  The public defender conducts an internal check on these cases and accepts all cases except those where a conflict of interest or other legal reason prevents representation.   Cases that are not accepted by the public defender are then referred by the Indigent Defense Coordinator to the legal defender.   The legal defender conducts the same internal checks and determines if that office can accept the case.  Cases that are not accepted by either the public defender or the legal defender are then referred to private contract attorneys.  Private contract attorneys are private attorneys who have entered into a contract with Cochise County which pays them to represent indigent clients that neither the public defender nor the legal defender can accept. 

Are lawyers in the public defender’s office sufficiently qualified to handle serious felony cases?

Attorneys in the public defender’s office are all licensed to practice law in the State of Arizona.  Once hired, only lawyers who have training, experience and demonstrated legal skills are assigned to the trial team.  Public defenders maintain a regular training schedule as prescribed by the office and the Arizona State Bar.  Public defenders also have above average familiarity with the local court system and local procedures.  Your public defender is very qualified to handle your case.