Public Defender's Office
Mission and Vision
The overall mission of the Public Defender’s Office is to provide high quality legal representation as efficiently and economically as possible, while maintaining the confidence of clients that they are receiving competent and skilled representation. We envision a model advocacy program for indigent clients seek out our services because of our reputation for protecting the liberty of the accused, treating each and every case with an equal degree of concern, compassion and commitment, championing the constitutional rights of the accused and challenge the state to meet its burden of proof in each and every case and situation.
What is a public defender?
A public defender is an attorney provided by the court to represent persons charged with criminal offenses, who cannot afford to hire their own attorney.
Are public defenders “real” lawyers?
Yes. Public defenders are licensed attorneys who have completed law school and are members of the Georgia bar.
What type of cases does the public defender’s office handle?
The public defender’s office handles criminal charges only. If the police have arrested you and given you a ticket that charges you with violating a law, then the public defender’s office can help you.
How do I get a public defender?
When you go to court, you can be assigned a public defender if you ask for one and if you meet the qualifications.
If I am in jail, how do I contact my public defender?
If you are in jail, you may call the public defender’s office collect.
If I am out of jail, what should I do?
After you appear in court and are assigned to a public defender, you must go immediately to the public defender’s office between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., or between 2:00 p.m. And 3:30 p.m., Monday thru Friday, for your initial interview. The public defender’s office needs at least five (5) business days to handle your case.
What happens after I have been assigned a public defender?
Once a public defender is assigned to represent you, your attorney will prepare your case. If you are in jail, a representative from the public defender’s office will visit or call you. Your case will be investigated and your attorney will meet with you before your court appearance to explain your case to you and answer all of your questions.
When should I call my public defender?
You should call your public defender when you have any additional information or to give the name(s) and address(es) of any witnesses that may be able to help your case.
Should I discuss my case with anyone other than my public defender or a representative from the office?
No. It is very important that you do not talk to anyone about your case without your public defender being present or without him/her giving you permission to do so.
If my case is bound over to a higher court, will I keep the same public defender?
No. However, you may request a new public defender from that court system.
236 Forsyth St, SW, 5th Floor Atlanta, Georgia 30303 Tel: 404.658.6838 Fax: 404.658.6848
Rosalie M. Joy Public Defender, Interim Director 25 years of service with the City of Atlanta B.A. University of South Florida, J.D. Cumberland School of Law, Samford University, 1988.
Ms. Joy leads the Public Defender’s Office in providing holistic representation to indigent clients in the Atlanta Municipal Court. Her team consists of attorneys, investigators and legal advocates who work together to provide three core services; legal defense, advocacy in addressing collateral consequences of involvement with the justice system and linkage to essential social services.
John A. Tapia Public Defender, Deputy Director 7 years of service with the City of Atlanta BA Southern Methodist University JD Brooklyn Law School
John as Deputy Director assists the Director in the management and direction of the office of the public defender. He develops partnerships in the Atlanta community that provide services to clients. He oversees the department budget and works with the defender team to identify needs and build defense services.
As public defenders we provide zealous and effective representation of our clients in order to promote and protect the best interests of the client. As a member of the National College of DUI Defense, John is part of the DUI Defense Team of the Public Defender’s Office. John is also assigned to the Housing Court Division and works on housing court initiatives.
The Municipal Court Public Defender’s Office is charged with the responsibility of representing indigent defendants who are accused of violating any city ordinance for which a criminal penalty can be imposed, as well as certain misdemeanors that the court has concurrent jurisdiction with the State Court of Fulton County.
General City Ordinance Violations
There are numerous ordinance violations that prohibit certain defined conduct for which a criminal penalty of up to a $1,000.00 fine and/or six months in jail can be imposed. When this office is appointed to represent a client facing these charges it is our duty to conduct an exhaustive interview with the client in order to gather all of the facts and circumstances of a case, leading either to his guilt or innocence.
The attorney must conduct a proper investigation, evaluate all information applying the facts of the case to the law and then advise the client of his or her legal options. The types of cases that are handled by this office range from physical assaults on people, damage to or theft of property, drug offenses, weapons offenses, illicit sexual acts, housing code violations, environmental offenses, animal control issues, taxi cab violations and licensing and permits, etc.
These cases can be complex in nature and require legal expertise not only in the area of criminal law but also in real property, probate, environmental and contract law. If a bench trial is requested by the client the attorney must interview and subpoena witnesses, conduct a thorough investigation of the case, file proper motions, research the law and prepare for a zealous defense.
If a plea is negotiated with the prosecutor the defense attorney is still ethically obligated to first properly evaluate the evidence in a case and discuss with the client all possible options.
There are numerous ordinance violations that can arise out of what is defined as a domestic dispute between persons who are living together or have a familial relationship. It is the goal of the Municipal Court to address any underlying difficulties that exist between the parties so that such disputes do not continue to occur.
It is the job of the Assistant Public Defender to evaluate all the facts and circumstances of the case and to determine whether the case should be tried before the judge or referred to counseling. In some instances it is the responsibility of the Public Defender to locate counseling alternatives, provide the details of the programs to the Court and advocate this option as an alternative to prosecution.
If the case is referred to counseling the Assistant Public Defender is responsible for following the progress of the client and continuing to appear in court on behalf of the client until the case is finally adjudicated.
Housing Code Violations
The Housing Code provides for the identification and prosecution of individuals who may be in violation of housing regulations promulgated by the City of Atlanta. Charges range from dumping or storing trash or junk on the exterior of homes or properties to not maintaining safe and sanitary living conditions on the interior of properties.
Representing an indigent individual who is charged with housing code violations requires a working knowledge of real property law in that ownership and title issues may be involved. It also requires a competent knowledge of probate issues wherein properties may be inherited by clients or others who do not claim any ownership interest in the properties at issue.
It also requires the attorney be versed in contract law wherein disputes can arise concerning the clients’ efforts to correct code violations on their properties. Finally, the attorney must be knowledgeable regarding foreclosure issues, including the right of redemption laws and laws of statutory repose. Handling a housing code violations case can require title searches and many hours of investigation to determine proper owners.
The attorney must also visit the property in question, interview code enforcement officers to evaluate the alleged violations and then seek out structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing advice when alleged violations are disputed. Once a legal analysis of the case is completed it is the responsibility of the attorney to prepare for trial or assist the client with correcting the alleged violations.
The attorney contacts community organizations and private companies who can possibly assist clients with bringing their property into compliance. These agencies are approached for help in making repairs, cleaning, providing materials and labor to correct violations. Additionally, many clients in housing court are senior citizens that have mental health issues and physical limitations and disabilities that may be a contributing factor to the cited violations.
With regard to the elderly, attorneys work with outside agencies that offer specific services for senior citizens, such as social security, Medicaid and Medicare. If any of these contributing factors are identified the attorney also seeks assistance with addressing these concerns as well in order to avoid future allegations of code violations.
Quality of Life Crimes
The Atlanta Community Court is a division of the Atlanta Municipal Court that deals with quality of life crimes, such as prostitution, disorderly conduct (charges that mirror State misdemeanor offenses), panhandling, idling and loitering for illicit sexual acts, and low-level drug offenses.
The Court is committed to the dual principles of restorative justice; the idea that offenders should be held accountable to the community that has been negatively affected by criminal conduct, and rehabilitation of the offender so that the community does not continue to suffer from his or her conduct. The Community Court uses alternative sentencing options such as community service in local neighborhoods with the idea that the community is visibly compensated for the criminal conduct that contributes to neighborhood decay.
In addition, the Community Court uses other sentencing alternatives that are designed to curb future criminal behavior. For example, when mental illness and/or substance abuse is identified as a driving factor in an individual’s antisocial or criminal behavior, that person is often diverted from incarceration to appropriate treatment resources under the supervision of the Court.
The Court takes a supervisory roll in the offenders’ treatment plans through frequent review hearings, assertive case coordination, and when necessary, tough sanctions for non-compliance. The Public Defender plays a key role in this Court by identifying clients who may benefit from the services offered and advocating for these clients in court.
The Public Defender must wear two different hats in this courtroom, one as that of a defense attorney representing his client zealously on the issues before the court, and the other as that of a counselor concerned about the underlying issues that brought the client before the court in the first place. The public defender works diligently to protect the rights of his client and at the same time, works with members of the Community Court to resolve those underlying issues in an attempt to reduce recidivism.
In lieu of incarceration the judge may sentence a defendant to a probated sentence wherein he or she is placed on probation and monitored for a defined period of time. The defendant is responsible for complying with certain terms and conditions of the probation and if he or she does not comply they are subject to a revocation of the probation sentence and ordered to serve time in jail. It is the responsibility of this office to represent clients who are charged with violating the terms and conditions of their probation. These charges must be approached like any other criminal offense in that the attorney is required to conduct a thorough investigation of the alleged violations, prepare for an adversarial hearing before the Court and zealously argue that the client has not violated the terms of probation or seek alternatives to incarceration.
If a person is found guilty by the Municipal Court on any charge within its jurisdiction that person is entitled to appeal his or her case to the Superior Court for review as a matter of right.
This office represents not only former clients on appeal but also other individuals who may have represented themselves or had other counsel at trial, which meet the indigency requirements for appellate counsel. The statutory procedures for appealing a case require specialized expertise and knowledge of the appellate laws.
The appellate attorney is required to evaluate the trial of cases and identify all potential issues for appeal. In some cases, the prosecutor and judge agree that errors were committed, in which event the appellate attorney can obtain post conviction relief in the trial court. However, if the parties do not agree as to the alleged errors then the appellate attorney must prepare a Petition for Writ of Certiorari and a Brief in Support of the Petition to be filed with the Superior Court.
The attorney must then maneuver through a complex and hazardous legal minefield where one missed step can result in a dismissal of the appeal and subsequent claim of malpractice. Furthermore, if the attorney does not prevail in the Superior Court, he may file an application for discretionary appeal to the Georgia Court of Appeals. If the issue in the case is the constitutionality of an ordinance then the application for discretionary appeal is to the Supreme Court of Georgia.