Client Information

Services

Every individual accused of committing a criminal ("indictable") offense in adult court or any offense in juvenile court has a constitutional right to be defended by a lawyer. The New Jersey Office of the Public Defender (NJOPD) represents adult and juvenile clients who are charged with criminal and juvenile offenses in New Jersey state courts when the court determines that they cannot afford to hire private lawyers.  While clients do receive and are expected to pay bills for many of the services of the NJOPD, clients are fully represented whether or not they can afford to pay. 

In representing clients, the NJOPD will ensure that any services necessarily related are included, such as obtaining court transcripts or utilizing expert witnesses. The office has the right to decide the extent of such services and how much will be paid for them, and these are also items that will be billed to the client.

The NJOPD also provides representation to adult and juvenile clients if they are found guilty and choose to file direct appeals or post-conviction petitions concerning their convictions and/or sentences, consistent with court rules.  Criminal/juvenile representation also extends to directly-related sentencing matters that may arise, such as decisions about whether an individual is eligible for certain special kinds of sentences such as Drug Court or Intensive Supervision Parole. Criminal/juvenile representation also extends to violation of probation matters.

The NJOPD does not provide representation to individuals facing domestic violence complaints in Family Court; traffic or minor offenses that are handled in local Municipal Courts; or parole violation matters.

Through its Office of Parental Representation (OPR), the NJOPD also provides representation in Family Court to parents and/or guardians who are accused of abusing and/or neglecting children and/or who face possible termination of parental rights.  This representation can extend to appellate representation if needed.

Through its Office of Law Guardian (OLG), the NJOPD also provides representation in Family Court to children when they are the subjects of litigation against their parents and/or guardians concerning alleged abuse and/or neglect or possible termination of parental rights. This representation can extend to appellate representation if needed.

Through its Division of Mental Health Advocacy (MHA), the NJOPD also provides representation to: individuals in mental health-related commitment, review and placement hearings in 13 counties, as well as children from all 21 counties; Division of Developmental Disabilities clients throughout the state at guardianship hearings; and individuals throughout the state facing involuntary commitment under the "sexually violent predators" law.

Through its Special Hearings Unit (SHU), the NJOPD also provides representation to individuals subject to tier classification under Megan's Law.

Through its Office of Dispute Settlement (ODS), the NJOPD also provides mediation and arbitration services in the public interest in both complex civil litigation and in public disputes.  It also offers training in negotiation and mediation skills.

Client Rights

By deciding that you are eligible for the services of a public defender, the court has assured that you will be represented by a skilled lawyer who specializes in your kind of case. You are guaranteed certain rights as a public defender client.

Your lawyer is obligated to act on your behalf and represent you in the matter that you face in court.  He or she will do so with reasonable diligence and promptness.  Your lawyer will respond as quickly as possible to any reasonable requests you make for information about your case.

Your lawyer will explain your case to you to the extent reasonably necessary for you to make informed decisions about your case. Your lawyer must exercise independent, professional judgment during the course of representing you.  After consulting with you, your lawyer can decide which witnesses to call, whether and how to conduct cross-examination of witnesses against you, what trial motions to make, and any other decisions of a strategic or tactical nature such as which potential jurors to accept or seek to have dismissed in a jury trial.

In criminal and juvenile matters, you have the right to decide what plea to enter and, if you have a trial, whether or not to testify in your own behalf.  In criminal matters, you have the right to decide whether or not to give up your right to trial by jury.  Your lawyer will give you well-reasoned advice about making these decisions and handling other aspects of your specific case.

The NJOPD will continue to represent you, if necessary, in a direct appeal of a conviction, an adjudication or in any post-conviction proceedings in which court rules provide that counsel may be assigned.

Client Responsibilities

As a public defender client you also have certain important responsibilities.

In any matter in which the state may try to take action against you, you have an important constitutional right to remain silent.  Use that right. As soon as charges are brought against you, you should not speak to anyone other than your public defender lawyer or someone who is working with him or her on your behalf such as a public defender investigator. You should direct any questions or concerns about your case to your lawyer. If you are in jail, questions about bail should also be discussed directly with your lawyer.

Your lawyer will not reveal information about your case to anyone else without your consent.  Whatever you tell your lawyer or someone working with your lawyer on your behalf such as a public defender investigator is private and confidential.

On the other hand, what you may tell a police officer, a corrections officer, a prosecutor, a paralegal, a social worker, a fellow inmate, or even a relative or friend is not legally private and could be used against you in court.  Any of these people could become a witness against you without your approval. If anyone other than your lawyer (or someone working with him or her on your behalf such as a public defender investigator) tries to talk to you about yourself or the charges against you, do not answer.  Instead, contact your lawyer or public defender investigator as soon as possible. 

You should meet as soon as possible with your lawyer to discuss the facts and circumstances surrounding your case.  Your recollection of events can be vital to your defense.  You should help your lawyer gather all documents and information that may help your case but only in the way your lawyer asks.  Remember that all communications - written or oral - with police, prosecutors, the probation department, inmates, or anyone else in the legal system, should be made by your lawyer on your behalf, not directly by you.

It is very important to give your lawyer your current address and other contact information, and to notify your lawyer and/or his or her office if there are any changes to your contact information.

It is extremely important that you not file any motions with the court on your own or send letters concerning your case to anyone other than your lawyer or someone working with your lawyer on your behalf.  These documents could otherwise be used as evidence against you and any independent act could interfere with your best possible defense.

You have a responsibility to listen to advice given to you by your lawyer and if you are presented with choices in your case, you have a responsibility to consider the advice of you lawyer when you make your choices. 

Your lawyer only represents you on the charges that the court has determined merit public defender services. Your public defender lawyer has no authority to represent you on traffic violations, domestic violence complaints or civil charges.  However, you should still advise him or her of any other matters that may be pending against you in any court and any state because they may have an impact on what happens in your case in which you are represented by your  public defender lawyer. 

For further information, contact the Public Defender Regional Office in the county where you have been charged.

As a public defender client at the trial level (except if you are a Law Guardian or Mental Health Advocacy client), you also have an obligation to pay reasonable costs of your representation to the extent that you can afford to do so.

Billing

The State of New Jersey requires that once its services to a client are complete, the NJOPD must collect to the extent possible an extremely low cost and reasonable fee for those services in criminal, juvenile, Drug Court, ISP, SHU and Title 9 and Title 30 cases.  This is accomplished through a system that requires payment within 60 days of case disposition if possible, after which the fee owed is reduced to a judgment (lien).

Each NJOPD client in the above case types is asked to sign a reimbursement agreement that within 60 days of case disposition he or she will remit payment of the extremely low cost and reasonable fee, but the obligation to do so exists whether or not the reimbursement agreement is signed.

State law also requires that the NJOPD place a lien on a client's current or future property, if any, to meet unpaid bills larger than $150.00. If the lien is not satisfied at the end of six months, the State of New Jersey will then withhold any State income tax returns and/or Homestead rebates that would otherwise have been sent to the client until the amount owed is paid back in full through a device known as the Set-Off Individual Liability (SOIL) Program.