Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Are public defenders "real lawyers"?

​Yes! Public defenders are just as “real” as private criminal defense lawyers, civil lawyers and government lawyers. All the attorneys of the Office of Public Defense have graduated  from college and law school, and have met the same Washington State Bar Association requirements to practice  law in the courts of this state.

Public defenders provide representation that is at least as competent as that provided by private criminal defense attorneys. A study by the National Center for State Courts entitled “Indigent Defenders Get the Job Done and Done Well” concluded that P.D.s and private counsel achieve approximately equal results. For example, in the nine counties surveyed in the study, 76% of public defender clients were convicted, compared to 74% of private counsel clients.

How do I get a public defender?

​First you will need a judge to appoint a lawyer for you. You may be expected  to fill out a statement and provide proof to the court that you do not have enough  income to hire a private lawyer.

Since you're paid by the government the same as prosecutors, aren't you just working together?

​Absolutely not. Although TCPD is funded by county government, the office is an independent agency separate and apart from the prosecutor's office and the court. TCPD lawyers are loyal to their clients first, and are bound by codes of professional conduct requiring that they provide zealous advocacy and protection to each client, the same as private lawyers.

Can I call or drop by TCPD for some quick legal advice?

​Unfortunately, no. While we here at TCPD welcome visitors, our office is only authorized to give legal advice to clients whom the courts have assigned to us to represent. Unless you are a client we cannot give legal advice or answer legal questions.

Can I talk to a public defender if I already have a lawyer?

​No. Once you are represented by your own lawyer, a public defender cannot speak to you. In rare circumstances, you and your attorney may give a public defender permission to talk with either of you about your case.

What are conflicts of interest, or conflicts lawyers?

​A “conflict of interest” occurs when an attorney (or group of attorneys) cannot  represent a client due to their duty of loyalty to another client. For example,  two defendants are charged with a crime. Defendant 1 is already represented by TCPD when Defendant 2 requests representation.  TCPD cannot represent both Defendant 1 and Defendant 2 as their defenses may be adverse to one another. If you are eligible for public defender representation but a conflict of interest is found, the court may appoint an attorney who does not work in TCPD to represent you. This attorney is commonly referred to as “Conflict Counsel.”

What is an arraignment?

​If formal charges are filed against you, an arraignment will be scheduled. The arraignment is not a trial and not a time when evidence can be presented. At most arraignments a copy of the charges against you will be provided to you, if you do not have a lawyer, the judge will again determine if TCPD will represent you. Expect to have a plea of “not guilty” entered at your arraignment. Your case normally will be scheduled for a pre-trial conference, omnibus hearing, status hearing and trial. YOU MUST ATTEND THE ARRAIGNMENT.

What is an omnibus hearing?

​An omnibus hearing is the court proceeding where you and your lawyer will indicate whether you will either to go to trial, settle the case with a plea of guilty, or ask for extra time. You may find that the courtroom is crowded when you arrive, and that you have to wait a long time before you can meet with your court-appointed lawyer. However, no action can or will be taken on your case before you and your lawyer have talked.

Your lawyer probably will have one or more legal forms for you to read and sign. These forms include a Consolidated Omnibus Order if you decide to go to trial, a Pre-Trial Plea Order if you decide to accept the prosecutor's plea bargain offer, or an Agreed Order of Trial Continuance if you decide that you need more time. YOU MUST ATTEND THE OMNIBUS HEARING.

What is a status hearing?

​In Superior Court, a status hearing is held on a Wednesday the week before your case is scheduled to go to trial. This hearing is let the judge know whether the case is ready to go to trial, will resolved some other way, or will need to be postponed. Your case will not go to trial as planned unless you attend this hearing. Specific starting dates and times for each trial should be available from TCPD or the county clerk's office the next day.

What happens in a trial?

​A trial is the court proceeding where the prosecutor will present evidence and try to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of a crime. This is the hearing when witnesses testify. Through your lawyer, you will be able to question the witnesses against you, and present witnesses on your own behalf. Most trials are decided by a jury, but some are decided by a judge alone. You have a right to a jury trial.

What happens in a sentencing hearing?

​A sentencing hearing will take place only if you are found guilty at a trial or if you agree to plead guilty. This court proceeding is handled by the judge, who will use the recommendations of the prosecutor and your lawyer and use the sentencing guidelines to decide what your punishment will be. You always have the right to speak at your sentencing hearing.

What is a bench warrant, and what can I do if I have one?

​A bench warrant is issued by a judge when a person with a pending criminal case violates the rules of the court. Sometimes a warrant is issued for violating Pre-Trial Services requirements. Most often, people with bench warrants simply have failed to show up for a scheduled court appearance. Once a bench warrant is issued, the police can treat it like any other warrant - and use it to arrest people and keep them in jail until they appear back in front of a judge.

If you've missed a court date in Thurston County, it can be possible to turn yourself in voluntarily, without being taken into custody. The District Court and Sheriff's Office are located in Building #3 of the main courthouse complex, at 2000 Lakeridge Dr. SW in Olympia. Bring photo I.D. with you if you have it. If you have any paperwork that explains why you missed court, bring that with you too.

For Superior Court (felony) cases, check in at the front desk of the Sheriff's Office. The designated voluntary turn-in day is Tuesday only. You must turn yourself in between 8:30 and 9:30 am on any Tuesday. You should plan to be in court at 10:00 am on the same day as your voluntary turn-in.

After you check in at the sheriff's desk, your case will be added to that same day's court calendar for Arraignments. Next, you will go to the courtroom in Building #2. Court is scheduled to start at 10:00 am, so you will need to be in the courtroom on time. Your name will be added to the end of the list of cases that will be heard by the judge. Unfortunately, frequently there are a large number of cases on the docket, so you need to be prepared to wait in court until up to 12:00 noon. A lawyer from the Office of Assigned Counsel will be present in the courtroom to help you.

For District Court (misdemeanor) cases, check in at the District Court front counter. The designated voluntary turn-in days are Monday through Friday, excluding holidays, starting at 8:30 am. You will be scheduled for the next available court date. Unfortunately, the warrant will stay active until the person appears in court. For further information, please contact the District Court at (360) 786-5450 Monday – Friday 8:30 am to 3:30 pm.

Why hasn’t my public defender gotten my case dropped?

​Only a prosecuting attorney or a judge can drop or dismiss a case. Your case has been filed in the name of The State of Washington, not the name of the complaining witnesses. Even if complaining witnesses say that they do not want to see you prosecuted, they don’t have the power to get your case dismissed. That decision by law is left up to the prosecutor.

If I have a problem with my court-appointed lawyer, how do I complain?

​If you can’t work out your differences with your court-appointed lawyer first, your next contact can be the director of TCPD, Patrick O'Connor. You will find it most helpful to address your concerns in the form of a letter. If you are not satisfied with TCPD's response, you can file a formal complaint with:

Washington State Bar Association
1325 Fourth Ave., Suite 600
Seattle, WA 98101-2539
Toll-free: 800-945-WSBA (9722)

What can I do to help out my case?
  • ​Make sure that TCPD and your lawyer have an accurate address and phone number for you. Immediately notify TCPD if this information changes. Contact your attorney as soon as you get a letter from TCPD advising you to do so.
  • You may find it helpful to write out your notes about the facts of your case and the things that you want to discuss before you meet with your lawyer.
  • You should avoid discussing the facts of your case with anyone but a lawyer, investigator, or staff of TCPD.
  • When you are in jail, never discuss the facts of your case with others, visitors, and people you call on the phone (other than TCPD employees).
  • Avoid filing your own motions with the court.  Only in extraordinary circumstances, such as a request for a new lawyer, will you be given a court hearing to argue your motion before a judge. You may research the law that applies to your case if you wish, but your lawyer is not obligated to accept your legal research or your legal conclusions.
  • When you are in jail, do not send letters to anyone discussing your case, as letters may be intercepted by law enforcement and used against you at trial. Avoid discussing the facts of your case in postal mail and email.
  • Provide your lawyer with a list of potential witnesses as soon as possible, with accurate telephone numbers where they may be reached, and addresses where they can receive mail if possible.
  • Come to all your court dates. Unless your lawyer has told you personally that you are excused, you must come to court when the court order says. If you miss court, even if you might have a good excuse, there can be serious consequences, including being arrested and charged with a new crime. You may be inconvenienced by missing work or changing a medical appointment, but your boss or your doctor can't have you arrested if don't show up. A judge can, and will, put you in jail and possibly keep you there, if you don't appear in court as ordered.
  • Be on time for court.
  • Dress for court as seriously as you would for a job interview or for any other appointment that could affect your future.