See Also: Common
Why does this office exist?
Public Defender offices are created under state and local law for the
purpose of providing legal services in certain kinds of cases. In Santa
Barbara County it exists as a department of the County government created by
Resolution 69-6 of the Board of Supervisors pursuant to the authority granted
by section 27000 of the Government Code of the State of California.
As is typical throughout California, this office provides services to
effectuate the Constitutional rights of people facing legal process. The right
to counsel in criminal cases is established by the Sixth Amendment to the
Constitution of the United States and Article XX of the Constitution of the
State of California. The right to counsel in other types of proceedings is
dependent upon other legal provisions and case law.
This office was created on January 6, 1969, and accepted its first cases in
June of that year. It was at about the time that many other Public Defender
Offices were created nationally. This was in response to the United States
Supreme Court decision in Gideon
v. Wainwright. In Gideon
it was held that anyone facing the potential for significant incarceration if
convicted of a criminal charge has the right to a free lawyer should they not
be able to hire one themselves. While this idea was not new to California, the
publicity of the case created a dramatic increase in the number of defendants
asking for lawyers and counties around the state and across the nation rushed
to make use of long-standing laws allowing the creation of such offices.
(Eventually the facts of that case where presented in a book, Gideon's Trumpet
by Anthony Lewis. This in turn became a movie
of the same name starring Henry Fonda.)
What kind of cases does the public defender
The office is limited by law as to the kinds of cases it can handle. In
general we are authorized to represent persons charged with felony or
misdemeanor crimes. We cannot represent people charged with infractions (such
as most traffic tickets). We also represent young people who have cases
pending in the Juvenile Court. A small percentage of the cases we handle include representation of persons
who are being involuntarily detained due to alleged mental illness; some
contempt of court cases; and, representation of parties persons against whom
the county is seeking to terminate parental rights.
Even more rarely, we are authorized to represent persons challenging the
conditions of their confinement which means that we occasionally get involved
in litigation regarding local jail matters, such as complaints about
overcrowding or medical care.
We do not represent persons in civil lawsuits such as personal injury,
landlord tenant, dissolution or child custody fights between private parties.
We also do not represent persons seeking to collect or being forced to pay
child support through the civil court process.
In a typical year this office will represent clients in more than 23,000
Who qualifies for your services?
In most cases, the person seeking our representation must be indigent. This
means that they are without the resources to hire their own attorney. The
decision as to whether or not an applicant is indigent is one for the court to
determine in the end, although we can make a preliminary call.
In juvenile cases we represent the minor without regard to the indigency of
the young person.
In mental health cases we represent the subject of the detention or
conservatorship application without regard to the resources of that
How do you determine who is indigent for
purposes of obtaining your assistance?
Generally speaking, the test of indigency in this situation is whether or
not the applicant has enough resources available to secure the services of a
competent private attorney to handle the case. This definition means that the
decision regarding indigency must examine both the amount of resource
available to the applicant and the significance of the charges pending against
that person. For example, a person with a few thousand dollars on hand is
generally able to obtain a private attorney if charged with driving a motor
vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. That same person almost
certainly could not obtain paid counsel if charged with murder.
Applicants for our assistance who are not in custody must complete a
Financial Declaration and Application on which they disclose their economic
circumstances. This statement is made under penalty of perjury. In many courts
it is provided directly to the judge to review and decide if the Public
Defender should be appointed to the case. In other courts, the Public Defender
attorney reviews the application and makes the call, referring close cases to
the court for review.
When and how does one apply for the services of
the public defender?
When: The services of the office are available seven days a week, 24
hours a for emergency needs. Attorneys are on call during non-office hours and
may be reached at in the north county at (805) 705-9092 and in the south
county at (805) 705-9093. Any indigent person who is about to be arrested,
charged with a misdemeanor or more serious crime may request our assistance.
All law enforcement agencies in the county are regularly mailed a list of on
call attorneys and reminded that we are available to respond to requests for
services (such as when a suspect seeks the advice of an attorney prior to
interrogation) quickly. By law these numbers are to be posted in any place of
detention so that a person being arrested may contact us at that time.
How. Most clients, however, apply for our services when they make
their first appearance in court at their arraignment. At that time they will
be asked to complete a financial disclosure statement and application.
Prospective clients may also apply for our services by coming into any one of
our offices and completing the same forms. Many clients initiate service in
this way, especially in our Santa Barbara Courthouse office.
Do clients have to pay for the services of the
All adult clients charged with crimes are expected to pay for the services
they receive to the extent of their ability to do so. The determination as to
whether or not the client has that ability is made by the trial court judge at
the conclusion of the case. Currently the cost of providing Public Defender
services is about $90.00 an hour. In order to determine the cost of a
representation, the Public Defender attorney will disclose to the court how
much time she spent on the case. A judge may then order the client to pay all
or a part of the cost of the service.
In Juvenile Court cases, the family of the client may be assessed for the
costs of the Public Defender service using about the same process as described
Mental Health clients who have sufficient funds in their estate pay for the
services of the office in annual accountings approved by the court.
Penal Code section 987.8 states: In any case in which a defendant is
provided an attorney, either a Public Defender or Court-appointed counsel,
upon conclusion of the criminal proceedings, or withdrawal of the Public
Defender, the court may, after notice and a hearing, make a determination of
the present ability of the defendant to pay all or a portion of the cost of
that legal representation. The Court may hold an additional hearing
within six (6) months of the conclusion of the criminal proceedings. The
Court may order a defendant to appear before a county officer to inquire into
the defendant's ability to reimburse the county for legal assistance. Issues regarding collection of fees should be addressed to the
Court which ordered the fee paid or to the Treasurer-Tax Collectors Office of
the County of Santa Barbara.
How many people are working for the Santa
Barbara County Public Defender?
The office is currently (Spring 2006) staffed with 72 employees as follows:
Social Workers 2
What volunteer opportunities exist in the
public defenders office?
The Santa Barbara Public Defenders Office relies heavily upon volunteers to
accomplish its task. Volunteers can be categorized into three groups as
Undergraduate students. Students from local colleges, especially
UCSB and SBCC are offered the opportunity to observe the arraignment court and
to assist the attorneys handling this busiest of calendars. The students work
at counsel table in the court performing clerical and other gofer tasks but
are rewarded by observing the real criminal court activity.
Law Students. Each summer the office sponsors a summer internship
program that offers volunteer students from across the nation, and
occasionally from across the sea, the opportunity to work closely with deputy
public defenders in researching, preparing and helping to present cases.
Students in recent years have come from UCLA., Berkeley, Nebraska,
Michigan, Lewis and Clark, Tulane, American University, Virginia, Detroit and
many others. Generally we accept 3-4 students in Santa Barbara and Santa
Maria. Applications are accepted through February and selections are made in
Attorneys. Generally, the office has one to three volunteer
attorneys on staff at any given time. These attorneys are given assistance and
guidance in learning about local courts and the criminal law. They are given
the opportunity to develop specialized interests (for example in juvenile or
mental health issues). Each is given responsibility for a caseload which he or
she feels can be handled. Weekly staff meetings and a close working
relationship with staff attorneys assist them to grow in their comfort with
trial work and the defense of our clients. See Volunteer of the Year for a
list of recipients of special recognition in this area.
Other work. On occasion we receive volunteer offers from folks
interested in everything from assisting our Investigators to doing clerical
support. We are open to such situations and have found them to be mutually
If you are interested in volunteering with this office please contact the
office at (805) 568-3470 to discuss the idea.
How do I apply for work with the office?
The Public Defenders Office is a department of the County of Santa Barbara
which operates under a civil service system. Recruitments are handled by the
Department and application materials may be obtained from them.