Information for Non Lawyers

Appointment of Counsel

A person facing criminal charges in federal court is entitled to the assistance of an attorney. Basically, a federal crime is a crime that violates a law passed by Congress for the entire country, or a crime that took place on property owned by the United States government, like a military base or National Park. If that person cannot afford to hire an attorney, then the court can appoint a lawyer for that person. Under some circumstances, however, the court can order the person to contribute to the cost of the attorney, or to repay the cost of legal services after the case is over. Attorneys in the Office of the Federal Public Defender cannot give legal advice to anyone unless the court has approved the appointment of counsel. Legal advice and representation must be limited to those matters related to the criminal charge for which an attorney was appointed.

Guidelines for Calling Your Attorney in the FPD Office

Calls to your attorney from a regular inmate telephone may be blocked by the detention facility. Even if they are not blocked, they will be monitored and recorded by jail officials. You have a right to unmonitored calls to your attorney. To make them, you must request an “unmonitored attorney-client call” on a different telephone, usually assisted by your counselor. Your attorney may accept collect calls but you must say your name and the name of your attorney. If we do not receive this information, your call will not be accepted. Because the telephones provided for you at most facilities are electronic, we cannot speak to you directly unless we accept the collect call. At times when the attorneys are unavailable to speak to you, your collect call will not be accepted. When this happens, we request your cooperation in waiting at least an hour or so before calling again. Also, our budget for accepting collect phone calls is limited. Therefore, we also request your cooperation in not calling us unless what you want to discuss is extremely important and cannot wait. You may also write a letter, to which we will respond as soon as we can. We cannot forward calls to others outside our office.

Attorney-Client Privilege & Release of Information to Family/Friends

The Federal Public Defender's office is bound by the attorney-client privilege. This privilege keeps communications between a client and his or her attorney confidential. With a few limited exceptions, the attorney will not share privileged information with others outside the office. The policy underlying this privilege is to encourage open and honest communication between clients and attorneys. Do not talk to anyone about your case without first discussing the matter with your attorney. You may discuss anything concerning your case with your attorney because these matters are recognized as confidential. This confidential privilege extends only to discussions between you and your attorney and your attorney’s staff. Anything you tell your family, friends, and others such as cellmates, is NOT confidential and the court can compel those people to testify about what you said. Under the attorney-client privilege, our office is not allowed to discuss particulars of any client’s case with their family or friends unless the client directs the attorney to do so. If a family member or friend needs court dates, court times, or assigned courtroom, we may provide that information if it is not harmful to the client.

Detention Pending Trial

If you are detained before trial, you will be held in custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. While your case is pending, you will probably be held at one of the several regional jails operating in this district. Click here to see a list of jails where defendants are commonly housed district-wide. Your attorney has no control over the selection of the local jail in which you will be held. You may be moved to a number of regional jails while your criminal case is pending, normally due to overcrowding or the needs of the Marshals Service. If there is a serious problem at these jails, please advise our office and we will ask the Marshal, or the court, to look into it.

Court Appearances & Family/Friends Attending Court Hearings

If you are incarcerated, the Marshal's Service will transport you to court. If you are not detained, you must never miss a court appearance or arrive late for court. If you have a problem with a court date, talk to your attorney ahead of time. You can give up your right to come to court for some court hearings, but you must file a written waiver with the court to do so. Your attorney will provide you with the appropriate wavier form. You should be appropriately dressed for court as you will want to make a good impression. If you are incarcerated before trial, a family member or friend can provide our office with the appropriate clothes, and we will ensure that you have them made available you. In most cases, we encourage family members and friends to attend court appearances if possible. Such hearings would include detention hearings, trials, and sentencings. There are some situations, however, where a large family showing may not help. For example, many people in the courtroom may complicate matters when a confidential informant is testifying. Also, some judges do not like children in the courtroom. The attorney can provide more details about the best times for family and friends to come to court. Make sure that all cell phones and pagers are turned off before coming into any court; in some courts, these devices are not allowed.

Immigration Cases

In the Western District of Texas, we handle many immigration related cases. We cannot represent you on immigration issues, but we can provide you with contact information for various immigration legal aid agencies (click here for the links to these agencies), and/or provide you with the names and contact phone numbers for various immigration attorneys. To obtain the names and phone numbers of these attorneys, please contact the federal defender office in your region (see office directory).

Length of a Case

Under the Speedy Trial Act (see 18 USC § 3161 and the sections following), a case is supposed to proceed to trial within 70 days of arraignment on an indictment or information. Some felony cases do resolve very quickly. Many felony cases, however, take much longer. Delays can result when cases involve complicated issues or multiple defendants, or where more time is needed to review discovery, to interview witnesses, to prepare and argue motions, to negotiate plea agreements, or to prepare for trial.

Client Property

As a general rule, we do not receive client property into our custody. We are not staffed or equipped to do so, and we cannot accept the risk and exposure to liability that comes with receiving client property. Clients should have their property sent to their families or friends.

Habeas Petitions

Unless appointed by the court, our office cannot represent you in a habeas corpus case. We can, however, provide you with needed forms or documents from your file. Click here for the forms.

Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) determines where a defendant is going to serve his or her sentence. There are many factors that go into this “designation,” including a defendant’s prior criminal history, the facts of the present case, his or her immigration status, and family ties to a particular community. Once the person is serving his/her sentence, they can be located on the Inmate Locater available on their website (click here for the BOP website). Please note the "registration number" because that is the number used by BOP to identify the inmate. Once the inmate's location has been identified, follow the website's instructions and practices regarding: (1) telephone polices; (2) mailing addresses; (3) sending money; (4) visitation policies; and (5) area airports and driving directions.

Supervised Release and Violations

Almost every federal offense carries with it a term of supervised release. Supervised release is like probation: a defendant must regularly report to the U.S. Probation Office, and often must submit to drug testing. There are many ways to violate supervise release, including not submitting monthly reports, having a dirty drug test, or being arrested for new criminal conduct. The best thing a defendant can do in those situations is to immediately call his or her public defender. Sometimes, defense counsel can work with his or her client and with the probation office to avoid revocation and imprisonment for supervised release violations. When a probation officer files supervised release charges, the defendant will likely be arrested. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the public defender or another attorney will be appointed for these revocation proceedings. The defendant has much more limited rights in revocation proceedings than when facing substantive federal charges. For example, at a revocation hearing there is no jury. The government need only prove the charges by a preponderance of the evidence, not by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Also, hearsay is admissible, so a probation officer can simply repeat the allegations of other witnesses in the hearing.