1441 Sansom Street | Philadelphia, PA 19102 | 215-568-3190

I have just been appointed a Public Defender. Do I need to go out and hire my own attorney?

  • No. The Defender Association must comply with the same standards as the private defense bar. Staff attorneys must have obtained at least an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree in law. Every attorney is a licensed member in good standing of the Pennsylvania State Bar Association. All attorneys are required to continue their legal education by attending hearings and seminars on current and evolving legal issues.

What kind of cases does the Public Defender handle?

  • The Public Defender specializes in handling criminal cases occurring within the county of Philadelphia. This does not include summary citations, traffic tickets, protection from abuse orders or matters of child custody and support.

How do I get a Public Defender?

  • In order to be appointed a Public Defender, you must first be arrested. After arrest, a pre-trial services representative will conduct a telephone interview to determine financial eligibility. Once the pre-trial services interview has been completed, the person arrested will be scheduled for preliminary arraignment. During the arraignment, a Trial Commissioner will make a determination to either appoint the Public Defender or will instruct the person to hire private counsel. If the Public Defender cannot represent a person that is otherwise financially eligible due to a conflict of interest, the court will appoint counsel free of charge.
  • Persons in custody who are without counsel will automatically have the Defender Association appointed if more than two weeks have elapsed and the person still has not hired counsel. Prior to this two week time you may ask the Judge at your first court date to appoint the Public Defender. If you do not have a trial date within this two week period, you may call pre-trial services to request appointment. Questions should be referred to (215) 683-3710.
  • If you hired private counsel for your preliminary hearing, your case has been held for court and you can no longer afford this attorney, you must have your request for counsel qualified by a Common Pleas Judge or Trial Commissioner. Pre-trial services does not appoint counsel at the Common Pleas level. You can ask for the Defender Association to be appointed at your arraignment prior to trial in the Court of Common Pleas.

I was not appointed a Public Defender, but I cannot afford an attorney.

  • Appointment of counsel interviews are conducted at Pretrial Service Division main office, 1401 Arch Street, 5th floor, Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 4 a.m. You will be required to bring paperwork that proves inability to pay. Questions should be referred to (215) 683-3710. If you show up without any verification of your indigency, you will likely be asked to come back with proper verification.
    • If you are employed: You MUST bring verification of your income. Please bring the most recent copy of your pay stub.
    • If you are unemployed: Pre-trial services is looking to verify how you support yourself.
      • If you are supported by a family member or a friend you must bring a notarized letter of support from that person.
      • If you have recently lost your job, please bring the letter of termination.
      • If you support children under 18 years old: Please bring social security, birth certificate information and any verification of child support.
    • Other helpful documents: Public Assistance letters and SSI disability information are also ways to verify your financial status.
    • Self-employed or under the table employment generally disqualifies that person from consideration because there is no way to verify income.

The Defender Association has been appointed to my case, why is it important I come in for an interview?

  • Interviews serve a two-fold purpose. Interviews serve as the beginning step for any investigation that needs to be done regarding your case. It is essential that you come to our office for an interview as soon as possible after arrest. If you are in custody, an attorney from the Defender Association will be up to visit you. Staff attorneys conduct interviews at all of the prisons on a daily basis. Please keep in mind that investigations are often time sensitive. Interviews need to be conducted as close to the date of the arrest as possible. The Defender Association has an Investigations Department that interviews witnesses, obtains medical records and police radio calls, takes pictures of crime scenes and injuries and conducts all investigations necessary to prepare for trial.
  • The second purpose for coming to our office for an interview is practical advice. You will be able to speak to an attorney and tell them what happened to you. Additionally, our attorneys can provide referrals for social services such as drug and alcohol treatment.

How can I get a bail reduction?

  • Generally, bail reductions are not granted at the first listing of a case after arrest. Additionally, bail reductions will not be granted if you have detainers or open bench warrants. In considering whether to reduce bail, the Judge will take in account the severity of the crime, prior failures to appear for court, the amount of bail currently holding and whether essential witnesses have appeared in court.

How do I know who my lawyer is?

  • In order to find out who will be representing you, please note the next court date and court room from your subpoena. You may call our main number at (215) 568-3190. Provide the operator with your court date and court room and they will transfer you to the attorney that will handle your case.

I lost my subpoena and forgot my next court date. How do I find out that information?

You may call, go online or go in person:

  • You can call Criminal Listings department at the Criminal Justice Center at (215) 683-7297.
  • Online Criminal Court Listing System on the FJD Website at http://courts.phila.gov.
    • Go to search court records at the top pf the page
    • Click on search trial division-criminal hearing list
    • Click on search calendar by defendant's name
    • Enter your last name, first name then click search
    • Click on the link for the docket number of your case (if you have multiple cases, click on all of the cases to check)
    • In the docket, the calendar of events lists your next court date
  • You may go to the 2nd floor of the Criminal Justice Center and go to the Criminal Listings desk.
    • Please Note that you will have to wait in line and go through the metal detectors to get to the second floor.

What happens if I fail to appear for my court date?

  • There are very serious consequences. A bench warrant would be issued. You could be arrested at any time. The bench warrant is entered into the statewide fugitive database and possibly the national fugitive database.
  • If you had been released by posting bail, you or your surety could lose that deposit and be responsible for payment of the full bail amount.
  • If you decide to surrender, you would held in custody until you have a hearing in Bench Warrant Court-typically that day. At the hearing, you would be represented by one of our attorneys. The court would hear your reason for failing to appear in court. If the court determines your reason for failing to appear in court is unacceptable, then you could be held in contempt.
  • If you are found guilty of contempt, you could be sentenced to up to 5 months and 29 days incarceration for the contempt charge alone. Also, the judge may significantly increase the bail amount on your open case or deny setting bail at all.
  • It is very important that you bring any proof with you about why you could not appear in court. For example, if you were in the hospital in emergency care, bring your medical records.
  • If you decide to surrender, you can do so in room B-04 at the Criminal Justice Center (The Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice) located at 1301 Filbert Street. To surrender, you could do so on weekdays between 7:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

Why do I always have a different lawyer?

  • The Defender Association uses a team-based representation system. This means that in most cases, attorneys are assigned to courtrooms rather than to individual clients. There are several advantages to this system. Over the course of your case, several different attorneys will be reviewing your file each with their own perspective, insight and experience. In addition to attorney review, supervisors also review the files to ensure each client is receiving proper and effective representation.

Where can bail be paid?

  • Bail can be paid at the Bail Acceptance Office, Room B-03 of the Criminal Justice Center, 1301 Filbert Street. The office is always open and bail payments are accepted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including holidays. Bail must be paid in cash and the person posting the bail must provide a valid form of identification. Cash is accepted anytime. Cashiers and treasury checks payable to the Clerk of Quarter Sessions are accepted only from 8:30 a.m. through 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. through 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Questions should be referred to the Bail Acceptance Office at (215) 683-7727.
  • Bail information may be obtained 7 days/24 hours by calling (215) 685-8394, (215) 685-8395, (215) 685-8396, (215) 685-7957, or (215) 685-7958. Spanish-speaking persons may call (215) 685-8692. To avoid peak calling hours on weekdays, call before 9 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

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

  • No. Once you are represented by any attorney, either appointed or retained, the public defender is ethically prohibited from speaking with you without your attorney's permission.

What is a Misdemeanor?

  • A misdemeanor is any crime that punishable by no more than 5 years in prison. Misdemeanors are categorized by three tiers:
    • Misdemeanor of the first degree carries a term of imprisonment of no more than 5 years.
    • Misdemeanor of the second degree carries a term of imprisonment of no more than 2 years.
    • Misdemeanor of the third degree carries a term of imprisonment of no more than 1 year.
  • Misdemeanors are heard exclusively in the Municipal Court. Misdemeanors are crimes that are less serious than felonies.

What is a Felony?

  • Felonies are all crimes punishable by 5 years or more, Felonies are categorized by three tiers:
    • Felony of the first degree carries a term of imprisonment of more than 10 years.
    • Felony of the second degree carries a term of imprisonment of no more than 10 years.
    • Felony of the third degree carries a term of no more than 7 years.
  • All felonies initially go to preliminary hearing in the Municipal Court. If the Judge decides that it's more likely than not that a felony has been committed, the case will be held for court and given a date for trial in the Court of Common Pleas. If the Judge decides that it is more likely than not that a misdemeanor has been committed, your case will be remanded back to the Municipal Court for trial. If the Judge decides that it is not more likely than not any crime has been committed, your case will be discharged for lack of evidence. Please be aware that you may be re-arrested at the discretion of the District Attorney's office.

What time should I arrive to court?

  • You should plan on arriving at the Criminal Justice Center at least 45 minutes prior to the time listed on your subpoena. When you arrive at the CJC, you will have to go through the metal detectors and make your way up to your court room. You should not expect, in the morning especially, to be able to do all of this within a few minutes of arriving at the court house.

What should I wear?

  • There is not one single answer to this question; you should wear clothes that show respect for the court and show that you are taking your case seriously. While you will still be allowed in the court room if you are dressed more casually, please remember you may not receive the same level of respect and consideration as an appropriately dressed person would receive.
  • You should never wear anything that glorifies crime or violence. Clothing that references guns, drugs or gangs are never appropriate. Additionally, women should refrain from wearing clothing that is tight-fitting, too short or too revealing; err on the side of dressing conservatively.

Can I bring my cell phone to court?

  • Yes, but you may not use your cell phone in the courtroom. In the courtroom, your cell phone must be turned off or set on silent.
  • Never have your cell phone visible in court. Even if you see police or attorneys using their cell phone, do not use yours.
  • There are rules posted about this in every courtroom.
  • There are many dangers if your cell phone rings or you use your cell phone in the courtroom. For example, the judge or court staff can confiscate your cell phone. If your cell phone rings or you use your cell phone, the judge will see you as someone who breaks the rules and disrespects the court. Obviously that impression could harm your case.
  • Also, while you might be doing something totally innocent with your cell phone, the court will assume that you are trying to take pictures of witnesses for witness intimidation purposes or trying to record proceedings. That could result in you being charged with additional, serious crimes

Can I talk about my case over the prison phones?

  • No. Never talk about your case over the prison phones. Prison phone calls are recorded.
  • The District Attorney's office listens to prison phone call recordings. Anything you say about your case (or anything else that could make you look bad) over the prison phones could harm your case.
  • Only talk to your Public Defender about your case.

Why do I have to keep coming to court when the police and complaining witnesses keep failing to appear?

  • There will often be times where the necessary witnesses to your case have failed to appear 2-3 times and you may wonder why no bench warrants are issued for them; but bench warrants would be issued for you if you failed to appear. While the system is unbalanced in this respect, to protect your best interest, you should plan on showing up for court every time and on time. Receiving a bench warrant for failing to appear or showing up late gives the District Attorney's office another chance to put on their case against you. Cases are never dismissed at the first listing by the Commonwealth. Cases are usually dismissed after 3 times, but some may be continued even longer than that. Again, the best way to protect your interests is to show up to court on time and appropriately dressed.

What happens if I (or family/friends) post on Facebook (or any place online) about my case?

  • If you (or your family/friends) post on Facebook (or any place online) about your case, that will seriously harm your case.
  • The District Attorney's office investigates Facebook and all online sources to try to build a stronger case against you. So if you (or your family/friends) post anything about your case, that information will be used against you.
  • Also, for certain online posts, the District Attorney's office could even charge you with additional crimes such as witness intimidation.
  • Never post anything about your case online.
  • Your Facebook account (and any online account) should be set on private so nobody can view your information.
  • Family and friends should not post information about you, your case, or pictures of you in anyone else's account because that will be used against you.
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