If you have been charged with a crime and cannot afford an attorney, you will be assigned a public defense attorney. The Public Defender’s Office has 90 licensed misdemeanor and felony attorneys, also known as deputy public defenders. Most deputy public defenders have 5 to 25 years of criminal law and trial experience. Your deputy public defender will diligently represent you at every stage of your case.
Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible to have your case transferred to a specialty court. There are three specialty courts in San Francisco: Behavioral Health Court, Proposition 36 Court and Drug Court. These courts handle sensitive cases where alternatives to incarceration, such as drug rehabilitation and intensive case management, are provided. Deputy public defenders staff each of these courts and are available to represent you.
Investigating and Preparing Your Case
Your deputy public defender will investigate your case, file all necessary motions, engage in settlement conferences, and represent you in every hearing and at trial. Your deputy public defender will work with an experienced Public Defender’s Office investigator who will locate and obtain other evidence. The office has 18 investigators with 5 to 30 years experience. Your lawyer also has access to 14 paralegals, three transcribers, and an array of expert witnesses and other resources that might be needed to prepare your defense.
Addressing Your Social Needs
Your deputy public defender will work with the Public Defender’s Office social work staff to assess any needs that stand in the way of the most favorable outcome for your case. Our three social workers can refer you to substance abuse, housing, mental health and employment programs. If you have children and are concerned about their well-being, talk to your deputy public defender about how our Children of Incarcerated Parents can help.
Cleaning up Your Record
A criminal arrest or conviction may present barriers to obtaining employment, housing, education and public benefits. The Public Defender’s Office Clean Slate Program helps its clients clean their records in order to overcome these barriers. If you are not currently represented by a deputy public defender, you can download information about the Clean Slate Program here: Clean Slate Program Instructions, Procedures, and Application (PDF) You can also visit during Clean Slate drop-in hours: locations and times are listed on our Contact page.
This comprehensive resource guide was first published in 2007 and was the product of a collaborative reentry planning process focused on improving access to resources for individuals reintegrating into San Francisco communities after incarceration. Since the first issue, more than 14,000 copies have been distributed to inmates, previously incarcerated people, family members, corrections staff, probation and parole officers and reentry partners. To learn more and download a copy of the resource guide, please visit the Reentry Council here.