About Us

Persons charged in criminal and certain other special proceedings face the potential loss of significant liberty. Recognizing this, the founders of our country included the Sixth Amendment, which provides for the right to a lawyer for a person accused of a crime, in the Bill of Rights. 

However, it was not until the case of Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) 372 U.S. 335 that the United States Supreme Court ruled the Constitution not only mandates the right to counsel for the accused, but it also mandates that if a person cannot afford an attorney, the government must provide one. 

Two primary rationales under girded the Supreme Court's Gideon decision:
  1. The due process right to be heard when accused, and the right to confront the state's evidence or produce evidence in court was hollow unless a lawyer could assist the accused.
  2. Such legal expertise existed on the side of the state in the form of paid full-time lawyer/prosecutors, so fairness demanded that the accused have the same type of professional assistance when being prosecuted by the state.
California law requires that each county provide this constitutionally mandated representation. Pursuant to Government Code Section 27706, most counties in California have established Public Defender Offices to comply with this mandate. Because public defenders specialize in criminal law and make large numbers of court appearances, clients benefit from cost saving advantages and heightened expertise when compared to a system of appointed private attorneys drawn from throughout the legal community.

What We Do

When a person who is accused with a crime is financially unable to retain private counsel, the Office of Public Defender provides legal representation for persons accused of crimes in the unified courts in Contra Costa County. Attorneys and staff in the Department also provide representation in Juvenile Court in delinquency matters. 

The Contra Costa County Public Defender's Office staff at every level is dedicated to only one purpose: to provide excellent legal services to our clients. Working together as a team with a positive attorney-client relationship we can assure the most effective representation.

Who We Represent

We represent adults in criminal cases who cannot afford to retain an attorney. We also represent all juveniles in delinquency cases. The nature and severity of the charges and the custodial status of the accused are also considered when determining whether a person can afford to retain counsel. At the initial interview we obtain the following information:
  • financial information regarding employment
  • assets (such as housing equity)
  • money owed to creditors
  • family size
  • other sources of income
We do not represent persons in traffic, civil and family law cases, unless they are referred for possible contempt of court charges. Prospective clients of our Department should be aware that the court will assess attorney's fees at the end of the case. The county’s Cost Recovery Department collects fees (not the Office of the Public Defender). If the fees are not paid, the Cost Recovery Department may seek a civil judgment for the fees. Clients are entitled to ask for a hearing on their ability to pay when the court orders fees. In every case, a fee of at least two hundred dollars ($200) is assessed.

How We Do It

First, an attorney will appear with the client at the next court date to enter a plea of not guilty and to schedule future court dates. Based upon the nature of the charges, custodial status of the client and the procedures in the local court, the case will then be assigned to an attorney. The assigned attorney will be responsible for the client's case(s) from that time forward. (Sometimes another attorney may appear in court with the client if the assigned attorney is unavailable; however, the assigned attorney makes all of the legal decisions about the case.)

The Contra Costa County Public Defender's Office staff at every level is dedicated to only one purpose: to provide excellent legal services to our clients. Working together as a team with a positive attorney-client relationship we can assure the most effective representation.

Where We Do It 
Our offices are located in Martinez to serve Central / East clients and courts, and Richmond to serve clients who live in West County. 

When, because of a conflict of interest or for other reasons, staff in the Main Branch of the Department cannot represent a client, the case will be transferred to a separate branch of the Department --the Alternate Defender Office (ADO).  If the ADO cannot provide representation, the Bar Association will assign a member attorney.




Disclaimer:

This site is meant to provide information of a general nature which you should verify with an attorney before relying upon it. It does not provide legal advice and is not meant to establish an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice you should ALWAYS contact an attorney.