Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How did I get a Public Defender assigned to my case?
  2. What if I am able to hire my own attorney?
  3. What else happened at my arraignment?
  4. What about bond and bond reductions?
  5. What if I am on probation or parole?
  6. What will happen next?
  7. When do I get to speak with my attorney?
  8. What is a pre-trial conference?
  9. Will I get to see the police reports and witness statements?
  10. What can I do to help my lawyer help me?
  11. What about drugs and drug testing?

 

How did I get a Public Defender assigned to my case?

Following your arraignment on one or more felony offenses in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, you were determined to be indigent.  This simply means the judge found you were without funds to hire your own attorney.  The United States Constitution guarantees that every person who is financially unable to hire their own attorney must be provided with a competent attorney at the government's expense.

In Cuyahoga County, the attorneys employed by the Office of the Public Defender represent a substantial percentage of persons who are determined to be indigent.  The court also appoints attorneys engaged in the private practice of law to represent persons charged with crimes who cannot afford to hire their own lawyer.  Such attorneys are not Public Defenders and are not employed by the Defender Office.  Be assured that the assistant Public Defender attorney assigned to your case has been determined by the Chief Pubic Defender to have the skill and experience necessary to handle your case.

What if I am able to hire my own attorney?

If you are financially able to hire your own attorney, you are encouraged to do so immediately.  Our services are limited to those who cannot afford counsel.

What else happened at my arraignment?

The arraignment process involved several steps.  First and foremost, the court entered a plea of not guilty on your behalf.  This is a common and typical event at the time of arraignment and regardless of whether you think you may have committed the crime with which you are charged, everyone without an attorney has a "not guilty" plea entered when they first appear in court.

Second, your case was assigned to a trial judge who is responsible for the handling of your case until it is completed.  This is a different judge than the one who conducted your arraignment.  If you were on probation at the time of your arraignment, it is likely that your case will be assigned to the same judge to whom you are on probation.

The end of your case could mean a trial, dismissal or the entry of a guilty plea as part of a plea bargain.  Your assigned lawyer is always present at any stage of the proceedings in court to discuss your options and to advocate on your behalf.

What about bond and bond reductions?

The judge at your arraignment set a bond.  The bond is designed to insure that you show up for court when required.  In the event you fail to appear in court, the judge will issue a warrant, also known as a "capias", for your arrest.  In this event either your bondsman or a deputy sheriff could be sent out to arrest you.  If you are unable to make bond your lawyer may ask your assigned trial judge to lower the bond in an attempt to have you released from jail while your case is pending.  The amount of the bond set by the judge at the time of arraignment is usually based on the severity of the crime you're charged with and the extent of your criminal record.

What if I am on probation or parole?

If you are someone who is in jail as a suspected probation or parole violator, in addition to the new charges you are facing, it is likely that a holder has been placed on you at the request of the probation department or adult parole authority.  In such situations, it is unlikely that you'll be released from jail until you have completed proceedings on the new charges and have dealt with the claimed violation at either a probation violation or parole revocation hearing.

What will happen next?

The first step in effectively representing you will consist of an interview.  This is called an "intake".  Your lawyer's law clerk, who is usually a law student or paralegal, will ask you for background information and attempt to get a brief summary of what, if anything, you know about the allegations made against you in the indictment.  The law clerk will be able to tell you the name of the specific lawyer assigned to represent you and protect your rights.

If you are on bond, you will have the option of providing the intake information either by phone or in person.  If you are in jail, the law clerk will see you in jail within one or two days of your arraignment to conduct the intake interview.  Please cooperate with the law clerk as this person is acting at the request of your assigned attorney.  Any information you provide to a law clerk is confidential and only used by your attorney in an attempt to assist you.  Understand that the law clerk is not an attorney and will not be in a position to answer legal questions regarding your case.

When do I get to speak with my attorney?

In most instances, your assigned attorney will attempt to speak with you prior to your first court appearance before the assigned trial judge.  Again, if you are on bond, the attorney may speak with you by phone or arrange for you to come into the office for a face-to-face appointment.

If you are in jail, your lawyer, time permitting, will come to see you in person.  You should understand that your attorney will have no independent information about your case until he appears in court for a first pre-trial conference.  This usually occurs within ten to fourteen days of the date of your arraignment.  Your first court date before the assigned trial judge is not set by your lawyer.  It is the judge's responsibility to set the cases as quickly as his or her case load permits.

If you are on bond, your attorney will send you a letter indicating when and where you are required to come to court.  In the event you have not received a letter within two weeks of your arraignment notifying you of your first pre-trial date, it is suggested you contact the Public Defender office.  In many instances, the address provided to us for you by court personnel may be incorrect, making it impossible to contact you.  Our inability to contact you could result in a warrant being issued for your arrest and the revocation of your bond.  If you are in jail, unfortunately, you may have no advance formal notice of your first pre-trial and will simply be brought up on the date set by the court.

Most of our attorneys are typically in court between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 12:00 noon, Monday through Friday.  When conducting trials, an attorney may be in court all day until well after 4:30 p.m.  If you call our office wishing to speak with your attorney when he or she is in court or otherwise unavailable, you will be transferred to his or her voice mail.  A secretary answering our main number will be able to assist you with general information and can access your scheduled court.  They, however, possess no information about the particulars of your case.

What is a pre-trial conference?

A pre-trial conference is not a date for the trial of your case.  It is really an opportunity for your lawyer to meet with the prosecutor to gather information about your case.  This gathering of information is called discovery and usually consists of an informal conversation in which the prosecutor provides a summary of the case against you and the names of the witnesses he or she intends to call against you should your case go to trial.  Your attorney will file all necessary pre-trial motions on your behalf and it is not necessary for you to attempt to do so on your own.

Will I get to see the police reports and witness statements?

Contrary to what you might think, the prosecutor is not required to provide your lawyer with police reports and witness statements and usually does not.  The information the prosecutor provides usually comes from these documents, but again, by law, the government is not required to provide the actual documents.  Once your lawyer gets the information, he or she will discuss with you how it impacts on decisions you will make about how your case will proceed.  If you are in jail, you will usually be brought up to a holding area near the courtroom in order for your attorney to have these case-related discussions.  If you are on bond the attorney will have these discussions in conference rooms located outside the courtroom.  It is not unusual to have numerous pre-trial conferences before the final disposition of your case, whether that occurs through trial or plea bargaining.

What can I do to help my lawyer help me?

If you are aware of potential witnesses who possess information regarding your case who you feel might be of help to you and your defense, be prepared to provide the names, addresses and telephone numbers of such persons.  Your lawyer will need to contact them in advance of any trial date to discuss with them their anticipated testimony.

Do not discuss your case with anyone.  This would most definitely include any law enforcement officer or member of the prosecution staff.  If you are confined in jail, do not discuss your case with fellow inmates as it is not unusual for the police and prosecution to employ informants who could end up testifying against you.

Have no communication with the court and judge assigned to your case.  This includes communications in written form and by letter.  It is always best to allow any communication regarding you or your case to come through your attorney.

Assistant Public Defenders have many resources available to them to assist them in conducting your defense including, investigators, social workers, law clerks and support staff.  Be aware, however, the best assistance any criminal defense attorney can have is a cooperative, concerned and responsible client.  Remember that you find yourself in a very serious situation requiring your complete attention,

WARNINGS

Please be on time.  Tardiness reflects badly upon you with the court and in some instances could result in your bond being revoked.  If your bond is revoked you may well be arrested and held in the county jail until your case is finished.  In the event you are ill or have other problems effecting your ability to come to court, you must contact your attorney as soon as possible to see whether your case can be postponed and continued to another date.  Do not assume your lawyer will be able to have your case rescheduled to a new date simply because you have called in asking for a postponement.  Understand that most judges require doctors' excuses and/or some form of proof to substantiate a request for a postponement of your court date.  Last minute calls regarding sudden illness, car trouble and lack of transportation usually result in a warrant being issued for your arrest.

What about drugs and drug testing?

You should also know that at any time while your case is pending, there may come a time when you are asked to provide a urine specimen to court officials used to determine whether you are using drugs.  This would include controlled substances such as marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin and other opiate based painkillers, amphetamines, and just about any type of illegal street drug. These types of substances remain in a person's urine for varying amounts of time and may provide positive drug testing indications long after one has stopped using them.  A positive test can have adverse effects upon favorable disposition of your case and could result in your incarceration.  If you are using medication prescribed by a doctor, be prepared to prove it by presenting the original prescription vials in which such drugs were originally delivered to you.  THEREFORE, DO NOT USE ILLEGAL DRUGS WHILE YOUR CASE IS PENDING.  IF YOU ARE USING DRUGS AND HAVE THE ABILITY TO STOP, DO SO IMMEDIATELY.  If you are drug addicted or have a drug problem, it is important for you to tell your attorney so that such difficulty is properly taken into consideration when making decisions regarding your case.

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