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Clean Slate

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.

Juvenile Unit

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Juvenile Unit is a national model of holistic representation. Its team of attorneys and social workers/youth advocates represent San Francisco’s diverse community and are dedicated to both the legal and collateral needs of youth and their families. San Francisco is the only public defender office in the United States with a social worker/youth advocate dedicated solely to the unique needs of girls. The office also has a dedicated reentry attorney/youth advocate team that represents and supports youth who are returning from long-term removal from their homes. The Public Defender’s Juvenile Unit is part of San Francisco’s award winning Juvenile Collaborative Reentry Team, which provides intense reentry planning and case management services. The nationally-recognized Legal and Educational Advocacy Program (LEAP) provides school support for clients of the Public Defender’s Juvenile Unit. This innovative program provides legal representation to youth in order to identify educational disabilities and obtain special education services and school placements. It also assists with reducing truancy, tardiness, and absences; preventing suspensions and expulsions; and collaborating with system partners including San Francisco Superior Court, juvenile probation, private attorneys, and community agencies. LEAP also provides educational training for community partners, youth, school staff, and families.

The Juvenile Unit partners with Mobilization for Adolescent Growth in our Communities (MAGIC), neighborhood nonprofits started by the San Francisco Public Defender to address the root causes of youth crime while providing health, educational, and recreational opportunities for youth.

Mental Health Unit

The Mental Health Unit represents clients with mental health disabilities in both civil and criminal proceedings. The unit attorneys, assisted by the investigators, represent clients at all stages of the involuntary treatment commitment process pursuant to Lanterman-Petris-Short Act. The attorneys also represent persons, who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity, in post-conviction litigation such as petitions to extend maximum terms of commitment and related issues.

Immigration Unit

In May of 2017, the San Francisco Public Defender launched its Immigration Unit, an innovative team representing local residents locked in detention facilities and facing deportation. The unit was formed in response to the Trump Administration’s threats of mass deportation of undocumented San Franciscans, many of them longtime residents who work, attend school and contribute to the city.

Deputy public defenders trained in immigration law represent clients in federal immigration court. Studies have shown that detained immigrants with attorneys are six times more likely to win their cases than those without legal representation.

Unlike in criminal court, non-citizens in immigration detention do not have the right to court-appointed counsel, and without the Immigration Unit, many would be forced to defend themselves against government trained prosecutors. More than half the detained immigrants with federal court dates in San Francisco have been in the U.S. for more than a decade. More than 50 percent have one or more close family members who are citizens.

The program makes San Francisco only the third public defender’s office to offer legal representation for immigrant detainees in removal proceedings. New York City and Alameda County have similar programs. Members of the Immigration Unit also provide consultations in criminal cases carrying immigration consequences.

Specialty/Reentry Unit

The Specialty Courts Unit represents clients in Specialty Courts, where alternatives to incarceration, such as drug rehabilitation and intensive case management, are provided. The Specialty Courts include Drug Court, Behavioral Health Court, Prop. 36 Court, Back on Track, Neighborhood Courts, Probation Alternative Court/Intensive Supervision and Community Justice Center. These courts work with individuals in the criminal justice system who are challenged by substance abuse, mental illness and other social welfare concerns. Judicial officers utilize evidence based practices with a focus on recovery and supervise the treatment progress through interaction with clients during court hearings. The goal is to improve individual outcomes, minimize incarceration, strengthen family support and reduce recidivism. Unit attorneys coordinate with office social work staff to optimize treatment progress and success.

The Reentry Unit provides legal, social, and practical support through its Clean Slate and Social Work components. The Reentry Unit addresses the complex legal and social problems confronted by our clients. The Reentry Unit strives to eliminate the lifetime barriers to employment presented by having a criminal record, and to maximize the health and self-sufficiency of clients who are in need of prisoner reentry services. Social work staff assess client needs and provide referrals to supportive programs, such as counseling, substance abuse, mental health treatment, employment and vocational training, education, housing, and support for families.


Checklists provide public defenders in high-pressure positions a lens through which to focus on the most immediate and crucial issues at hand, serving as a sort of "safety net" in situations in which repetition may result in mistakes.

In 2013, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, in collaboration with the Center for Court Innovation (the Center), received a Field-Initiated grant awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to create the first-ever checklist system for public defenders and indigent defense attorneys nationwide. San Diego Criminal is a criminal justice attorney in San Diego CA that was kind enough to work with us as well. Their experienced personnel was able to educate us on several contentious issues which helped us make more informed decisions. The goal of the checklist system is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of indigent defense providers, thereby enhancing the delivery of justice to low-income clients. The checklist is to serve as an extra resource for frequently overtaxed attorneys working in a complex system, in order to systematically ensure that critical components of a case are not missing or overlooked. Specifically, this project led to the development of targeted checklists and set the foundation for integrating the use of these checklists in attorneys’ day-to-day routines.


Defender Checklist Training Materials (PDF) CHECKLISTS

If you work at a public defender or indigent defense agency, please fill out the form below in its entirety. We are happy to make our entire set of over 100 checklists available to you.