Frequently Asked Questions
Whom does the Public Defender represent?
The Public Defender Represents individuals charged in the Juvenile and Superior Courts of San Francisco who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. Eligibility for representation is determined by a sworn statement of inability to afford private counsel.
What sorts of cases do you handle?
The Public Defender handles cases ranging from simple misdemeanors to complex felonies and death penalty cases, as well as Mental Health proceedings and cases in Juvenile Court.
What’s the difference between the Public Defender and the District Attorney or the City Attorney?
The Public Defender represents the accused in a criminal proceeding. The District Attorney represents the State of California in a criminal proceeding. The City Attorney represents the interests of the City of San Francisco, mostly in civil matters.
How do I clear my criminal record?
If you have a San Francisco criminal record, the Public Defender’s Operation Clean Slate program can help you get your record expunged, sealed or destroyed. In some instances, the Public Defender will file the papers with the court for you. In other instances, the Public Defender will refer you to an attorney who can help you through the process. Call Operation Clean Slate at (415) 553-9337 for details or read the Clean Slate Program page of this website.
I’m a victim of crime. Can you represent me?
The Public Defender does not handle this sort of representation. Crime Victims should contact the District Attorney’s Victim Witness Assistance Program for information and representation.
What language services are available?
The courts and the office of the Public Defender provide language assistance and interpreters as needed. Please contact the office for more information.
Do Public Defenders have the same obligations as private attorneys?
In a word, yes. Although the Office of the Public Defender is an office of city government, the attorneys represent the clients with the same skill, zeal, and confidentiality as a private attorney.
How do I apply to work for the Public Defender’s Office?
Individuals wishing to apply as attorneys should forward their resume to the Public Defender’s office, c/o Teresa Caffese, Chief Attorney. Individuals wishing to apply as interns should forward their resume to the office c/o Kathy Asada. All other positions are filled through the San Francisco Department of Human Resources.
Will you represent me on my traffic ticket?
The Public Defender does not represent individuals charged with infractions – offenses punishable by only a fine. The Public Defender does represent individuals on several driving related offenses, such as driving under the influence, reckless driving, etc. Contact the office at 415-553-1671 for details.
How can I get out of the criminal justice system once a drug sales or possession for sale case has been filed against me?
If you are 18-25 years old and a current or former San Francisco resident charged with selling drugs or possessing drugs for sale, you may be eligible for Mentor Court. Mentor Court will help you to attend school or job training for one year and meet regularly with peers and mentors, thereby working to have your case dismissed. To find out if someone is eligible, you can speak to your attorney or call the Mentor Court Attorney at the Public Defender’s Office at (415) 553-9337.