The primary responsibility of the Public Defender’s Office is to ensure the representation of any person accused of a crime, but is currently unable to afford to hire private defense counsel. If you have been arrested and remain in custody, you will be brought to the courthouse, usually within 48 hours of your arrest. If you are not in custody, you will be given a time and place to appear for your first court date.
In-custody defendants are brought over to courtroom 1A of the Minnehaha County Courthouse on Mondays thru Friday at 1:30 p.m. The Judge will inform you of all of your rights, including the right to court-appointed counsel. A representative from the Public Defender’s Office will be present in the courtroom to speak on your behalf. You will have an opportunity to complete an application for an attorney. A paralegal will be there to assist you in making sure all the necessary information that the Judge will need to determine whether you qualify for a lawyer is provided to the Judge and the public defender. The paralegal may also ask you questions so that the public defender will be able to make a bond argument on your behalf.
In most cases, the public defender in court will not be the lawyer that is assigned to handle your case. After court, the attorney will take all the client information back to the office. Your case will be assigned to a lawyer. If you are released from jail, it is important that you contact the office the next day to find out who your lawyer is, and to schedule an appointment to meet with him or her.
Out of custody citizens can also request that the Judge appoint a public defender when he or she makes his first appearance in court, which is usually 9:00 a.m. Monday thru Friday, in courtroom 1A. You will need to complete an application for court-appointed counsel, which includes a financial disclosure statement. The Judge will review your assets versus your debt to determine whether you can afford to hire a private attorney. If the Judge determines you qualify, it is important that you contact the public defender’s office the next day to find out to whom your case has been assigned, and to schedule an appointment to meet with him or her.
It depends on all of your current financial circumstances and how much debt you have. As such, there is no specific dollar figure which makes you ineligible for the services of a Public Defender. For example, individuals who are in custody and are unable to post bail are presumed to be eligible for court-appointed counsel if they do not have the resources to bond out of jail. On the other hand, if they can afford to post a large sum of money for bail, they might not be eligible. If they have enough financial assets to afford private counsel, they are not eligible to be represented by a Public Defender.
Regardless of whether an accused is in custody or out of custody, all of that person’s financial obligations (such as the need to support a family, pre-existing debts, rent/mortgage) are balanced against the assets and income in determining whether that person can afford to hire private counsel.
Being charged in a criminal matter can be extremely traumatic for anyone. It is perfectly understandable that in some cases you may want to speak with a Deputy Public Defender before you appear for your first scheduled court date. You may go to the courthouse Monday thru Friday, 8:00-5:00 p.m. and fill out an application for court-appointed counsel. The clerk will give the application to a magistrate, and you will be instructed to call the clerk of courts office the next business day to find out whether your application was approved. You may also complete the on-line application beforehand and deliver it to the Minnehaha County Clerk of Courts Office. You can print it off and either mail it or drop it off at the Minnehaha County Clerk of Courts Office. The contact information is as follows:
Minnehaha County Clerk of Courts
425 N. Dakota Avenue
Sioux Falls, SD 57104
If you have a general question, but the Public Defender’s Office has not yet been appointed, you can still call the office and ask to speak with an attorney. Keep in mind that the attorney you talk to before your court date will not have your police reports or all the information needed to represent you. The attorney will hopefully be able to give you enough basic legal information so that you can feel more confident when you first walk into court.
If you have been represented by an attorney in the office before, you are certainly welcome to call and speak directly with him or her. It is likely that your case will be assigned to the same lawyer who has represented you before. He or she may not be immediately available because most attorneys spend much of their time in court. If you have to leave a message, make sure you leave your full name, your telephone number, and the best time to contact you. Speak slowly and clearly. If you know your next court date, include that information as well.
When an officer leaves a business card on your doorstep, or asks a family member to have you give him a call, it is natural to feel nervous and overwhelmed even if you have not done anything wrong. You never have to speak with a detective or police officer without the presence of an attorney. Exercising your right to have an attorney present can never be used as evidence against you. Never take a detective’s invitation to “clear your name,” or “present your side,” without first speaking with a lawyer. Even if it is after 5:00 p.m. or a weekend, please contact the office. Even when the office is closed, if there is no one in the office to take your call, you can still leave a voicemail 24 hours a day. Leave your complete name and telephone number and speak slowly and clearly. Wait for a return call from an attorney before speaking with the officer.
In general, the Public Defender’s Office can only represent persons who are subject to proceedings that could potentially result in a loss of a liberty interest. Those proceedings include criminal prosecution, civil commitment proceedings (i.e. alcohol committals, mental health committals), and contempt matters, such as non-payment of child support orders. The Public Defender’s Office also represents juveniles accused of crimes, and parents accused of abusing or neglecting their children. The Public Defender cannot represent individuals in civil cases. For some persons unable to afford a lawyer in a civil case, East River Legal Services may be able to provide some assistance. They may also be able to refer you to the R.D. Hurd Pro-Bono Society, made up of law students at the University of South Dakota. The State Bar also has a lawyer referral service through their website at www.sdbar.org.
The Public Defender handles only criminal cases. The Public Defender’s Office cannot sue anyone in civil court, including the police, the jail, or the state’s attorney’s office. While it is understandable at times for clients to feel that they were unjustly arrested or mistreated by correctional officers, it is important to understand that the public defender can only represent you on matters in which a court has appointed him or her to handle. He or she is not authorized to assist you in any matters beyond the criminal case. It is important that you write down and preserve any evidence of the maltreatment and speak with a private attorney through the State Bar lawyer referral website located at www.sdbar.org.