- Are public defenders real attorneys?
- How do I get a public defender?
- Is a public defender free?
- What is the $50 fee?
- What is an arraignment?
- What is a pre-trial hearing?
- What is a Baker Act hearing?
- Why hasn’t my public defender had my case dropped?
- Can I still refuse the breathalyzer if I've been stopped before?
A: Public defenders are lawyers who practice only criminal law. All have undergraduate and graduate degrees in law. With the exception of a few legal interns who are training in county court, all assistant public defenders have passed the rigorous requirements of The Florida Bar Association to practice law in this state. Many of our attorneys have more than 25 years experience practicing law. The Sixth Circuit Public Defender office has the highest number of Florida Bar criminal-law-certified attorneys in the state. It also has the highest number of Florida Supreme Court death-qualified attorneys to try death penalty cases in the entire state.
A: If a person wants a public defender attorney to represent him/her on a pending case, the person needs to go to the clerk of the circuit court's office on the second floor of the Criminal Justice Center in Pinellas County or to either clerk's office in New Port Richey or Dade City. There is a $50 application fee set by the legislature that needs to be paid. If you do not currently have the $50, the court will order it be paid at the end of the case.
A: No. If you enter a plea or are convicted at trial, the court can enter an order requiring payment of a fee, or the court can make the fee a lien which could affect your credit. There is no fee ordered if your case is dismissed or you are acquitted.
A: The $50 application fee was created by the legislature. The fee applies whether or not you actually are appointed a public defender. However if you do not have the money, you cannot be denied a public defender.
A: After your first appearance before a judge, if formal charges are filed, an arraignment will be scheduled. The arraignment is not a trial and not a time when evidence can be presented. At most arraignments the charges against you are read and if you do not have a lawyer, the judge will again determine if the public defender's office will represent you. If a plea of not guilty is entered at your arraignment, your case will normally be scheduled for a pre-trial conference. If the public defender has not been appointed, YOU MUST ATTEND THE ARRAIGNMENT.
A: A pre-trial hearing is the court proceeding in which a decision is made to either set a trial date or enter a plea of guilty or no contest. You MUST attend a pre-trial hearing unless your public defender has told you not to go.
Q: What is a Baker Act hearing? Can you have a public defender represent you at a Baker Act hearing?
A: A Baker Act is an involuntary mental health commitment proceeding. Generally these occur when someone has a concern that a person is a threat to themselves or others. You are entitled to representation by a public defender for a Baker Act.
A: Only the state attorney or the court can drop or dismiss a case. Even if the victim says they do not want to prosecute the case, the decision by law is still up to the state attorney.
Q: If I have a previous DUI and did not “blow” into the breathalyzer and I get stopped again for DUI, can I still refuse to “blow” into the breathalyzer?
A: Refusal to blow into a breathalyzer after a previous refusal is a first degree misdemeanor that has a maximum penalty of one year in the county jail.