If the police contact me, do I have to speak with them?
No. If you are questioned by law enforcement, it is essential to keep in mind the Miranda warnings: “You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and may be used against you in court; you have the right to an attorney before and during any questioning; if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to assist you.”
What should I do if the police want to search me or my belongings?
Law enforcement is under no duty to advise you of your rights in order to search you or your property. Nevertheless, law enforcement can only search you or your property under certain circumstances. While you do have the right to refuse to be searched or have your property searched, there are situations where law enforcement can search you or your property without your consent. If you do not consent to being searched by law enforcement, you should clearly tell the police that you do not want to be searched. If law enforcement has a search warrant, ask for a copy of the warrant.
If I think I’m under investigation by the police, should I speak with an attorney?
Absolutely! If you have reason to believe that you are under investigation by law enforcement, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. Talking with an attorney is important so that you can understand your rights, responsibilities and the potential outcomes of any investigation. Law enforcement investigators should understand and must respect your desire to speak with an attorney. Any consultation about your situation with an attorney will be completely confidential.
What should I do if a family member or friend is arrested?
If a friend or family member is in jail, and you are trying to get helpful information, the most important thing you can tell your friend or family member is: “While you are in jail, DO NOT discuss the facts of your case with anyone. Do not talk with the police. Do not talk with other inmates. Do not talk to your friends or family over the phone about the facts of the case. Wait until you meet your lawyer to talk about the facts of your case because only conversations between you and your lawyer are protected by attorney-client privilege and are confidential, and only your lawyer will be able to give you accurate, reliable advice about how to proceed with your case.”
Can I have my friend(s) or family call and talk to my attorney about my case?
No! Please note that attorneys will not discuss the facts of the case with family members or friends even if the client gives permission. If your attorney talks to others about the facts of the case and about what the client tells them it is a violation of the attorney/client privilege. We can explain procedural issues to family members and friends.
Are public defenders real lawyers?
Absolutely! All public defenders are attorneys who are members of the South Carolina Bar and are licensed to practice law in the State of South Carolina. The attorneys in the Office of the Tenth Circuit Public Defender have passed the State Bar examination, been practicing criminal defense law for years possess the intellectual ability, legal knowledge, and commitment to practice criminal defense law. Public defenders in the Office of the Tenth Circuit Public Defender are graduates of some of the finest law schools in the United States. Additionally, the office makes sure that all public defenders are continually trained and current in the law through extensive and specialized trainings covering all aspects of criminal defense law.
Will a public defender fight for me?
Tirelessly, fearlessly, and with compassion! The primary responsibility of the Office of the Tenth Circuit Public Defender is to provide vigorous legal representation to all persons who have been accused of criminal misconduct but are currently unable to afford to hire private defense counsel. If appointed to represent you, the Public Defender’s only loyalty is to you, our client.
How do I get a public defender to represent me if I’m in custody after I’m arrested?
If you (or your friend or family member) are in custody, usually within two days of your arrest our Jail Coordinator will visit you at the county detention center and screen you for a public defender. As long as you are incarcerated, you should qualify for a Public Defender. Within a day or two of being screened, an attorney will be assigned to handle your case and will visit you as soon as possible to discuss your case with you.
How do I get a public defender to represent me if I’m out of custody after I’m arrested?
If you post your bond and are released from the jail, you are required to go to the County Clerk of Court’s office to complete an Affidavit of Indigence and Application for a Public Defender. You must meet certain income guidelines to qualify for a Public Defender. The Clerk of Court requires the payment of a $40.00 application fee to apply for a Public Defender. If you qualify, the Clerk will forward an Order of Appointment to our office and an attorney will be assigned to handle your case.
Should I try and resolve my case without a lawyer?
This is never a good idea. You have the right at all stages of the criminal process to be represented by a lawyer. In some courthouses, when you appear out of custody at your arraignment in a misdemeanor case, the judge might call your case, advise you of the charges and then ask if you would like to speak with the prosecutor who is in court and may offer a resolution of your case. It is always a good idea to speak to a criminal defense lawyer before entering a plea because there may be defenses available of which you are not aware and there might be consequences to pleading guilty that could cause you problems in the future. Don’t feel pressured into resolving your case without a lawyer. Simply tell the judge that you would like to be referred to the Public Defender.
What happens if I’m in custody and the police want to talk to me or to place me in a lineup?
Ask to have a lawyer represent you. Before being questioned regarding a crime, the police must inform you that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Likewise, if the police want to place you in a lineup, you have the right to have an attorney present at the lineup. The Office of the Public Defender has attorneys on call to serve these functions. A public defender who goes to the police station or jail serves as your attorney in the same way as if you had retained the attorney to represent you. The attorney represents you, not the police.
How do I contact my public defender?
Call any of our offices and the receptionist will connect you to your lawyer’s office. All public defenders have voice mail, so you can leave a message. Anytime you have to leave a telephone message for your attorney, always remember to speak slowly and clearly. Leave your complete name, a telephone number, and the best time for your attorney to contact you.
If I forget the name of my public defender, how can I find out who is representing me?
Call the Public Defender’s Office where your case is pending. Provide the receptionist with your full name. Ordinarily, that information will be enough to help our staff determine the name of your attorney. The receptionist will then connect you to your attorney.
If I forget my court date, how do I find out when it is?
Call the Public Defender’s Office immediately! If you don’t know your next court date, don’t put off calling to find out. Missing a court date can result in the judge taking you into custody when you do show up or a warrant being issued for your arrest. The easiest way to find out your next court date is to contact the Public Defender’s office at the court where your case is being heard and our staff will be able to tell you your next court date. Whenever you call a Public Defender Office, it is always very helpful to have your case number available.
What is a “plea bargain”?
Prior to the trial of your case, the Solicitor will meet with your public defender and offer a “plea bargain” to resolve your case without a trial. This often means pleading guilty or no contest to fewer or less serious charges than those pending against you for an agreed upon sentence. The decision to accept a pretrial offer or go to trial is perhaps the weightiest decision a defendant can make in a criminal case. The Office of the Public Defender is committed to offering you all the information, advice and counsel we can to help you make the best decision you can. In the end, the decision to accept an offer and end your case without a trial or to fight your case at trial is yours and yours alone. It is important to remember that all public defenders are experienced, skilled and effective trial lawyers. If you wish to go to trial, you can be sure that you will get vigorous representation from a dedicated advocate.
If I get convicted after a misdemeanor or felony trial, can I appeal?
Yes. Defendants who have been convicted after a misdemeanor or felony trial have the right to appeal their conviction. This process is started by the trial attorney who, upon request of the client, will file a notice of appeal in the trial. A lawyer who specializes in appeals will then be appointed to represent you in your appeal. These lawyers are not employees of the Public Defender’s Office. However, your public defender will provide your appellate lawyer with all the information she needs to help you win your appeal.
How do I find out if there is a bench warrant for my arrest?
If you are already represented by a public defender on the case, call the Public Defender’s Office where your case is pending. That information will be enough to determine whether there is a warrant for your arrest. Arrangements can then be made through your attorney to accompany you to court to deal with the warrant. It is better to work with your attorney to deal with a bench warrant than to ignore the warrant and take your chances on being arrested and jailed. It would also be helpful to be able to explain why you failed to appear in court. If there is any written record (such as a letter from your doctor or your employer) which may help to explain your absence, the judge might consider giving you another chance rather than putting you into custody.
Will the Public Defender’s Office represent me if I am a citizen of another country?
Absolutely! The Office of the Public Defender is available to represent you, in your criminal case, regardless of your citizenship status. The Office of the Public Defender will also provide you with accurate information regarding the possible immigration consequences to any potential resolution of your case.
If my English is limited, can I get an interpreter to assist me?
Yes, whenever necessary, your public defender will obtain the assistance of an interpreter. An interpreter will be made available for interviews, consultations, and court proceedings. In court, an official court interpreter will be obtained for whichever language or dialect is needed for you to be able to clearly communicate and understand everything that is going on in your case.
Does the Office of the Public Defender have investigators who can look for evidence that will help me?
Yes! The Office of the Public Defender has access to highly trained and experienced investigators. Their job is to track down any witnesses and obtain any physical evidence that might prove a client’s innocence or demonstrate a weakness in the prosecutor’s case. Not infrequently, it is due to the work by a dedicated investigator that an innocent client is released from custody. Other times, the investigator’s work helps to obtain lighter sentences for individuals who have been convicted.
Will what I say to a Public Defender Investigator be kept confidential?
The attorney-client privilege concerns the confidential communication between lawyer and client which cannot be disclosed to anyone without the consent of the client. This same privilege extends to ALL employees of the Public Defender’s Office, including investigators.
Will the Public Defender represent me in a civil case?
No, the Public Defender only represents persons subject to criminal prosecution. In all other cases, the Public Defender does not represent individuals in civil cases. The South Carolina Bar Association provides a lawyer referral service that you may contact at (803) 799-6653.