My 19-year-old son attempted suicide a few weeks ago. Fortunately, he was found before he did any serious damage to himself, but the police found LSD in his car (I had given them verbal permission to search the car, not knowing about the LSD.) My son says had never done drugs before and since he planned to die, figured that he had nothing to lose by experimenting. Now he has been charged with possession, and I don't know what to do for him. Private attorneys don't seem to want to give advice without being paid in advance, besides which the attorney fees would kill us financially. Can we trust a public defender to do his or her best for my son? Should be plead guilty? Not guilty? I understand that your advice isn't legally binding, but I really have no idea how to help him and just need some direction. He has received counseling and is no longer suicidal and just wants to start over.
State/Country relating to question: California
Hello,No defendant should ever plead guilty or no contest until a plea and sentence agreement has been worked out that he approves of. At the onset of the case and unless or until the deal is all worked out for him, he MUST plead Not Guilty. That is the only plea that keeps all of a defendant's rights open until he can get counseled by an attorney and informed well enough to make intelligent decisions on his case. As far as a public defender is concerned, like any private lawyer, there are good ones, bad ones, and most are average. The main difference between a public and private attorney is that public defenders handle about 90% of the criminal caseload in the country. They have a lot of experience, but they are very busy and can be hard to reach in between court dates. From my own experience I would say that about 2/3 of the average public defender's case load is made up of drug and drug related offenses. So they certainly would know the worth of a case and how to plea bargain and/or try one. The biggest problem is that you can't pick the one you want, the way you can a private lawyer. You get who you get. That would mean that there isn't always a great personality match, but if that gets in the way of the lawyer doing his job for the client, the defendant can inform the judge of that and the judge will generally make one switch of assigned counsel.Actually, if his offense involved a first arrest Drug Possession and not sale, in California he would be in a good position to start over. California offers certain defendants on certain drug charges special forms of probation under proposition 36 or proposition 1000. Proposition 36 is a special form of probation requiring a year of mandatory drug treatment. Generally that would start out as outpatient. At the end of the program, if the defendant successfully completes all requirements, his case could be dismissed. Proposition 1000 is for more serious drug offenders. and is a longer program, also requiring probation and drug treatment. With propostion 1000, an offender pleads guilty but his sentence is suspended. If he completes the program successfully however, the offense is dismissed. California also has a drug court program, which is intensively supervised court mandated treatment.So -- botXXXXX XXXXXne -- when he goes to court for his first court date and the judge arraigns him and asks how he pleads, he should plead not guilty. Then he can tell the judge that he is without the funds to hire a lawyer and that he will need to appoint him a public defender. If the judge agrees he cannot hire a lawyer without tremendous hardship, he will grant that, adjourn the case, and his lawyer will generally appear in court with him on his next date.
18 yrs of NYC public defense. Extensive arraignment, hearing, trial experience.
Thank you for your very thorough answer! You mention that "if the judge agrees that he cannot hire a lawyer without tremendous hardship" he will adjourn the case...what might happen if the judge does not perceive hardship?
Hi Carol,Public defenders are intended for indigent clients. Nobody wants to have to spend money on a lawyer. I am one, and I wouldn't want to do it either. So when a person asks for a free attorney, the judge may question him briefly yas to the state of his financial circumstances. Every jurisdiction throughout the country has its own eligibility criteria and can be loose about it or very rigid. It generally depends upon how many public defenders are around to serve the community, the size of their caseloads and the county budget.If the judge believes he is eligible he will appoint a lawyer. If he thinks a defedant ought to be able to pay, he will adjourn the case and order the defendant to come back with a private lawyer. If the defendant is denied free counsel and can demonstrate with concrete evidence that he's pushed beyond the limits of his budget already just to meet his basic needs, he can bring documentation -- taxes, pay stubs, bills and the like and ask the judge to grant him an indigency hearing. That is basically where the judge looks over the documentation and (hopefully) reevaluates his position.In a large urban population, courts are generally the most flexible when it comes to assigning counsel.. But in very small communities where they all but have to import a public defender to represent an indigent, they can be more strict. If a judge denies a public defender and a defendant cannot change the judge's mind via a hearing, he either has to come up somehow with private counsel or represent himself.
Hi Carol,What generally happens on a first court date is that a defendant will get arraigned. That is, the charges against him are formally entered into the record and he is asked how he pleads. To that, the only answer at an arraignment is "Not Guilty.' After that the case is usually calendared for a new date to discuss possible offers and the likely course of the case.This is by way of saying that he doesn't have to meet with his lawyer before going to the first court date. If the lawyer has said he will be there, he'll be able to get up to speed quickly because not that much goes on at the first court appearance. If his lawyer has a conflict of dates and cannot be there, he can just plead not guilty and tell the judge that his lawyer couldn't make it but would be available on X date. The judge will adjourn it so that next time he can have representation.If he does want to cancel the court date, the way to do this is to call the clerk of the court. Sometimes the clerk can do this himself, and sometimes he will tell you to write a letter to the judge. Every court has a somewhat different procedure depending upon its size and volume of business. But it all starts with the clerk. He should also not assume that he got his change of date but should check with the court rigt before the date to make sure there was no clerical foul-up and/or that he got the new date he actually asked for rather than another one.
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