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If not incarcerated, a person charged with a crime is usually asked to appear on a specific court date or within a certain number of days after receiving a ticket from a police officer. At that time, the Judge will ask if he or she needs an appointed attorney. Typically, he or she will fill out a form which asks questions about income and expenses. Then the Judge decides whether or not the Public Defender will be appointed to represent the person.
If a person is incarcerated, the person will be brought before a Magistrate or Judge and asked about his or her income and expenses. After reviewing the information, the Magistrate/Judge will make a decision as to whether or not a Public Defender will be appointed. If the Public Defender is appointed, the attorney assigned to the case will go to the Muskegon County Jail to meet with and interview an incarcerated client.
On Felony cases, the Defendant may appear before a Magistrate for arraignment if they receive notice of the charges. Usually though, the person is arrested on the warrant by the police and taken to an arraignment. In either situation, the Defendant will be asked whether or not a court appointed attorney is needed. A financial information form will be given to the Defendant to complete if he or she desires a Public Defender.
If the Public Defender is appointed, in-custody clients can expect that a member of the Public Defender office before his/her court date to discuss the case.
Defendants who are not in custody are given information on how to contact the Office to find out which Public Defender has been assigned to him or her and encouraged to make an appointment to meet with the attorney.
The Public Defender Office can be appointed at any time during Court proceedings, up to and including trial and sentencing. Our office is often appointed if the Defendant has a change in financial circumstances. We are also appointed as stand-by legal counselor for Defendants who choose to represent themselves.
A Public Defender does not have an attorney "on call" for legal questions. It is a staffing issue: Most of our lawyers are busy with their clients most of the time. Still, if you can be patient with us, leave us a message and we will return your telephone call and attempt to assist you.
Please remember that our lawyers are specialists. They have been chosen to be public defenders because they are very good at what they do. What they do is criminal law, the law of neglect and abuse, juvenile delinquency law and involuntary (probate) incarcerations. That means if you have a question about land/tenant matters or custody issues or civil lawsuits, we are probably not the folks for you. You might try:
Legal Aid of West Michigan
450 Morris Ave., Ste.104
Muskegon, MI 49440
You can also call private (for hire) attorneys. Many of them offer free consultations.