• NOTICE
  • This site is maintained by the El Paso County Public Defender's Office as a public service. It is intended for informational purposes only. The information here is not legal advice. If you are in need of legal advice please CLICK HERE.

Office Hours:
Monday - Friday
7:30 am - 5:30 pm

Address:
500 E. San Antonio
Suite 501
El Paso, Texas 79901
Phone (915) 546-8185
Fax (915) 546-8186

publicdefender@epcounty.com

El Paso County Public Defender

  • NOTICE: This site is maintained by the El Paso County Public Defender's Office as a public service. It is intended for informational purposes only. The information here is not legal advice. If you are in need of legal advice please CLICK HERE.
  • Frequent Asked Questions - General
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  • 1) What is a Public Defender?
  • 2) Can other lawyers be court-appointed?
  • 3) How do I get a Court Appointed Lawyer to represent me?
  • 4) What does it mean to be indigent?
  • 5) If I qualify for an appointed lawyer, how will I know whether my lawyer is a Public Defender, or a lawyer in private practice?
  • 6) What is a felony?
  • 7) What is an indictment?
  • 8) What is the Complaint and Information?
  • 9) What does 28.01 hearing mean?
  • 10) What does pre-trial mean?
  • 11) How is a bond set or reduced?
  • 12) What is a trial?
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  • 1) What is a Public Defender?
  • A Public Defender is a lawyer who works for the Public Defender’s Office; a court may appoint the Public Defender’s Office to represent accused persons who do not have the money to hire a lawyer. In El Paso, the Public Defender’s Office is funded by the County and, in small part, by the State of Texas.
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  • 2) Can other lawyers be court-appointed?
  • Yes.  Members of the private bar may be appointed to represent accused persons who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Funding for these services come from the same sources as the Public Defender’s Office.
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  • 3) How do I get a court appointed lawyer to represent me?
  • The first step is to apply for one. If you are in jail, a representative of court administration will contact you and help you fill out the application.  If you are out on bond, you may proceed to the office of court administration on the 3rd floor of the Courthouse to make an application if you have a misdemeanor or the Council of Judges on the 1st floor.  You will need to bring proof of your income and expenses with you.  If you are already in court, you should tell the judge you wish to apply, and the judge will refer you to court administration. If you meet the guidelines for indigency, the court will appoint a lawyer for you, either from the private bar or the Public Defender. It is up to the Judge to decide whether you get a private lawyer or a Public Defender, you do not get to choose your lawyer.
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  • 4) How do I know if I’m indigent?
  • You are indigent for the purposes of getting an appointed lawyer, if you don’t have enough money to hire a lawyer to represent you in a legal matter. The determination of indigency is made by court personnel, according to standards set by the courts and based on a person’s income and expenses. The courts have designated the office of court administration (for misdemeanors), and the Counsel of Judges (for felonies) to review applications on adult cases.  The 65th District Court’s Juvenile Referees, and the intake section of the Juvenile Probation Department review applications for appointed lawyers in juvenile cases.
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  • 5) If I qualify for an appointed lawyer, how will I know whether my lawyer is a Public Defender, or a lawyer in private practice?
  • If the Public Defender’s Office is appointed, you will receive a letter from the Public Defender’s Office.  In the case that you get a visit before you have received a letter, just ask.
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  • 6) What is a Felony?
  • Strictly speaking, a felony is a crime punishable by more than a year in jail. Texas felonies are classified by the seriousness of the offense. First degree felonies have a punishment range of 5 to 99 years or life.  A second degree felony is punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison, while a 3rd degree felony is punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison.  A state jail felony is punishable by 6 months to 2 years in a state jail. Capital felonies are punishable by life in prison without parole, or the death penalty.
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  • 7) What is an indictment?
  • An indictment is the paper saying the Grand Jury has found “probable cause” for a person to be formally charged with a felony. “Probable cause” is not evidence of guilt; it is only a level of proof that allows the State to accuse a person of a crime.  Once a person has been indicted, he or she will be assigned to a district court and is entitled to various legal rights related to trial.
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  • 8) What is the Complaint and Information?
  • The complaint is an affidavit sworn to by a member of law enforcement, usually the arresting officer. The information is the State’s official charge against a person. Like an indictment, the complaint and information is notice of the State’s charge based on probable cause, and not evidence of guilt. The legal rights of a person accused of a misdemeanor are the same as those of a person accused of a felony.
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  • 9) What is a 28.01 hearing?
  • 28.01 refers to Article 28.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, which guarantees accused individuals the right to file written pleadings (or motions) to the Court. These motions are filed by the lawyer to ask for a hearing on certain issues, or to invoke certain legal rights. If you decide you want to file a motion, please discuss it first with your lawyer.
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  • 10) What does pre-trial mean?
  • Pre-trial means the period of time before either a trial or any other final proceedings in the case. Pre-trial doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be a trial. Courts frequently hold pre-trial hearings so that defense lawyers and prosecutors can meet with to discuss the facts of the case, the plea offer, what hearings are necessary and to prepare for hearings, including a jury trial.
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  • 11) How is bond set or reduced?
  • A Bond is set by the Magistrate who informs an individual of his rights shortly after being arrested or a court, after the indictment. There are three types of bond which an accused can receive; a person’s bond can be any combination of these three types of bond.
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  •       11.1) A PR or personal recognizance bond is supervised release, and means the accused promises to appear in court for all hearings on the case. A PR bond includes a bond premium of 3% of the total amount of the bond. The person must report weekly to the PR bond office, and may be required to undergo a drug/alcohol evaluation, and/or submit to drug and alcohol testing. Persons on PR bonds also have a curfew as a condition of their bond.
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  •       11.2) The second type of bond is called a surety bond. This is the type of bond where an accused enters into a contract with a bondsman, much like an insurance policy. The Public Defender's Office cannot  recommend surety bondsmen. There are a number of bondsmen in El Paso, and a list of bondsmen can be found in the Yellow Pages. The bonding company may require the accused or the family to pay a certain percentage of the bond amount, and may also require collateral.
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  •       11.3) The third type of bond is a Cash Bond where the accused of a family member pays the full amount in cash. This money is refunded to the payer at the conclusion of the case, minus a nominal processing charge
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  • Please know that failure to appear in court or picking up new charges will cause the court to revoke (cancel) your bond and issue an order, or warrant, for your arrest. For PR bonds, you are required to comply with all the terms and conditions; failure to do so will also result in your bond being revoked.
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  • 12) What is a trial?
  • For our purposes, a trial is a legal proceeding in court in which the accused faces the charges the State has brought against him. The jury—or sometimes the judge—decides the facts after hearing the evidence. The State (prosecution) has the burden (or responsibility) of proving the accused committed the crime. The prosecution does this by presenting evidence—testimony, physical evidence, and documents—under special rules, or Rules of Evidence.)   The judge is responsible for making sure the State and the defense follow the law, and instructs the jury on how to apply the law in its verdict. If the accused has a lawyer, that lawyer has the duty of defending the accused, whether by cross-examining the State’s witnesses, presenting defense evidence, objecting to the evidence produced by the State or combinations of all or some of these things. Both the defense and the prosecution are entitled to make argument to the jury.
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  • Trials have two parts: guilt-innocence and punishment.  Guilt-innocence is where the jury determines whether the accused committed the crime charged or not.  Punishment comes only if the jury makes a finding (verdict) of guilt.  Either the judge or the jury can hear punishment evidence.  It then becomes the State’s responsibility to persuade the judge or jury to impose a certain punishment.  It is up to the defense to persuade the judge or jury to be less harsh.  For both the State and the defense, the persuasion is based on evidence, like witnesses, previous crimes, or facts suggesting the defendant does or does not deserve harsh treatment.
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  • Additional Resources
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  • National Legal Aid Defenders Association National Legal Aid Defender Association
    National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
    Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
  • State Bar of Texas
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