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How do I get a Public Defender to represent me?

The primary responsibility of the Public Defender's Office is to provide superior legal representation of all persons - whether in custody or not -- who have been accused of criminal misconduct but are currently unable to afford to hire private defense counsel.

If you have been arrested and remain in custody, you will be brought to a local court usually within hours of your arrest. You have the right to be represented by a lawyer at all stages of the criminal process.   If you are not in custody, you will be given a time and place to appear for your first court date. The first court date is called the arraignment, which is when you will be informed of the charges against you and enter a plea.  When you first appear in court for your arraignment, you will be represented by an attorney from the Dutchess County Public Defender's Office.

Public Defenders currently are present in the back of each Family Court Judge’s courtroom. At the first appearance, litigants are advised of their right to counsel and financially qualified by the Family Court Judges. After qualification, a Public Defender is assigned. Additionally, a litigant can seek to be qualified in advance of their first appearance by dropping off a qualification form to the second floor of the Family Court. Also, the Public Defender accepts walk-in clients and can assist with qualification and assignment of counsel.  

What do I need to do to qualify for representation by the Public Defender’s Office?

Come to our office at 22 Market Street, 4th Floor, Poughkeepsie, New York (Department of Motor Vehicles building) for an eligibility interview.  Our office is open for intakes on business days between 9:00 AM and 11:30 AM.  We operate on a first-come, first-served basis.  You should be prepared to wait.

You must provide the following at the time of interview:

If you are not able to bring the above documents, you may still come and your eligibility will still be evaluated.

Your eligibility application may be investigated for accuracy.

The Dutchess County Public Defender will not start to work on your case until you have qualified for legal representation.  You should qualify as soon as possible, preferably at least a week before you must return to court.  Do not wait or you will make your defense more difficult.

I can't afford a lawyer! How much can I earn and still be eligible for the services of a Public Defender?

It depends on your current financial circumstances and how much debt you have. As such, there is no specific dollar figure that makes you ineligible for the services of the Public Defender. For example, individuals who are in custody and are unable to post bail are presumed to be eligible for Public Defender services. If the person has enough financial assets to afford private counsel, then the person is not eligible to be represented by a Public Defender.

Regardless of whether a defendant is in custody or out of custody, all financial obligations (such as the need to support a family, pre-existing debts, rent/mortgage, etc.), are balanced against assets and income in determining whether he or she can afford to hire private counsel.

Are Public Defenders real lawyers?

Absolutely!  All Public Defenders are attorneys who are members of the New York State Bar and are licensed to practice law in the State of New York.  To become an Assistant Public Defender in the Office of the Dutchess County Public Defender, a lawyer who has already passed the State Bar examination must also go through a rigorous interview and oral examination so the Public Defender can make sure he or she has the intellectual ability, legal knowledge, and commitment to practice criminal defense law.

Although all New York lawyers are required to continue their legal education, the Dutchess County Public Defender requires lawyers to continually attend training and be current in the law by offering extensive and specialized in-house training covering everything from how to try a misdemeanor case to defending a person accused of murder.

I am the victim of a crime. Will the Public Defender represent me?

The interests of those who are victims of a crime are usually represented by the prosecutor's office, whose mandate is to see those who victimize others are punished for their crimes. However, if you are a victim of a miscarriage of justice resulting from false police reports or other police misconduct, the Public Defender will defend you against criminal prosecution. The Public Defender is unable, by law, to pursue any civil case against your accusers. You may be the victim of a crime, but are erroneously being prosecuted instead of being recognized as the victim. The Public Defender will defend you on the criminal charges.

I need a lawyer to help me in a civil case (like divorce, landlord/tenant dispute, debt payment, bankruptcy, personal injury action). Does the Public Defender handle that type of case?

In general, the Public Defender represents persons subject to criminal prosecution.  The Public Defender's Office also represents individuals in Family Court in connection with neglect proceedings, custody, visitation, orders of protection and child support. Our office prioritizes holistic defense and counsels on resolution of collateral issues.
In all other cases, the Public Defender does not represent individuals in civil cases, nor can our Office recommend any attorney or law firm.

Legal Services of the Hudson Valley helps low income individuals and families with free civil (non-criminal) legal counsel to protect their basic necessities of life, including shelter, freedom from physical abuse, medical care and access to legal protections and supports guaranteed by law, but not always provided.  They can be reached at 1-877-574-8529 or visit the Legal Services of the Hudson Valley website.

The Dutchess County Bar Association also provides a certified lawyer referral service. They can be reached at 845-473-2488 or visit the Dutchess County Bar Association website.

What is the Conflict Defender?

The Dutchess County Public Defender has established the office of the Conflict Public Defender, which provides legal representation for defendants the Public Defender cannot represent. This may occur, for example, when our office already represents another defendant accused in the same case, or the defendant happens to be a witness against another client in a separate case. This is called a "conflict of interest." Attorneys who work for the Conflict Public Defender are employed by the Ulster County Public Defender’s Office.

When both the Conflict Public Defender and the Public Defender cannot represent a client because of a conflict of interest, the court then appoints a private attorney. Those attorneys, likewise, are not employees of the Public Defender's Office.