City of Atlanta Office of the Public Defender
236 Forsyth Street, SW 5th Floor Atlanta, GA 30303
Reception Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday –Friday
The Public Defender’s office has been in existence since 1972. The services provided by the Public Defender’s Office are mandated by both Federal and State constitutional law. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “In all criminal proceedings, the accused shall enjoy the right…to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense”.
In the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, 373 U.S. 335, 83 S.Ct. 792 (1963) the United States Supreme Court held that an indigent person charged with a serious crime offense was entitled to the appointment of counsel at the State’s expense. In the case of Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25, 92 S.Ct. 2006 (1972), the Supreme Court held the right to counsel extends to all criminal offenses whether labeled as misdemeanors or petty offense (City Ordinance violations) where the accused faced a potential loss of liberty. In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), the United States Supreme Court held that defense counsel must provide effective representation, counsel is required to investigate all questions of fact and law in the representation of a client so as to present an effective representation on behalf of the client in court.
In Padilla v. Kentucky 130 S. Ct. 1473 (2010), the Supreme Court held that a defense attorney has an obligation under the Sixth Amendment to advise their client about the potential adverse consequences of a plea to criminal charges, and that the absence of such advice may be a basis for claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Mission and Vision
The Office of the Public Defender will remain committed to providing zealous, competent, client-centered legal defense to person’s charged with offenses before the Municipal Court of Atlanta.
The vision 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 who seek 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 challenging the state to meet its burden of proof in each and every case and situation. As we strive to be client centered, we will provide holistic care to collateral issues that can influence and/or be impacted by unlawful conduct.
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/or 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 be interviewed by our office, please contact the office at 404-658-6838 to schedule an interview or go to the public defender’s office between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, for your initial interview. Please do not delay in being interviewed while the facts remain fresh in your mind.
What happens after I have been assigned a public defender?
Once a public defender is assigned to represent you, your attorney will assist you in your case. If you are in jail, an attorney or client advocate 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 for the initial interview; when you have any additional information or to give the name(s) and addresses of any witnesses who may be able to help your case; when you have any questions regarding 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.
Director, Kenneth Days III
Kenneth Days, III, is the current Director and Chief Public Defender for the City of Atlanta Office of the Public Defender. Prior to his tenure with the City of Atlanta Days was a managing attorney for a large real estate practice and worked in private practice advocating as both plaintiff and defense counsel in civil actions, and as lead counsel in misdemeanor and felony criminal cases.
Since joining Atlanta’s Public Defender Office, Days has served as lead counsel in each of the City’s Municipal Specialty Courts. He has successfully secured employment, education, housing, mental health and substance dependency treatment for many of the clients he serves. As Chief Defender, Days has notably expanded the function of the Public Defender to provide civil legal services to clients.
Days serves on the American Council of Chief Defenders, and is a member of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the National Association for Public Defense.
Mr. Days is a graduate of Morehouse College and The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.
Types of cases:
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 and State Traffic Misdemeanors.
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 diversion. The office has a social worker on staff to assist attorneys advocating for their client. In some instances, the assistant public defender will advise for a counseling alternative and advocate this option as an alternative to prosecution.
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 ownership interests.
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 advice on how to correct 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 Municipal Court of Atlanta 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 role 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.
When revoking probation, a court must find that the probationer has willfully violated probation conditions. Failure to comply is not willful if the probationer lacks notice of a condition. Failure to comply is not willful if the probationer lacks the ability to comply. Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660, 672-73 (1983) A probationer may not be imprisoned for failing to pay fines, fees, or restitution if the court has not inquired into the reasons for failure to pay. If the failure to pay is not willful, the court must consider alternative conditions rather than imprisonment. In revocation proceedings, the probationer must be informed of the right to request counsel.
Few offenses in America’s criminal justice process call for greater attorney expertise than cases involving driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. DUI cases are especially complex because they require defense counsel to understand scientific, as well as legal processes. The legal issues are wide-ranging, involving search and seizure, due process, illegal interrogation, denial of counsel, and evidentiary issues. These legal issues intersect in a DUI case with scientific areas of expertise, such as anatomy, biology, chemistry, physiology and toxicology, as well as pseudo-scientific areas such as field sobriety testing. DUI defense counsel must also have a working understanding of the operation of breath test equipment, hospital testing equipment and instruments utilized by forensic laboratories in the process of testing for intoxicants.
The Public Defender’s Office trains its attorneys in DUI Defense techniques which include training in the above issues. They also receive specialized DUI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing instruction.
Traffic cases are treated like any other criminal matter due to the fact that a violation of a traffic law is a criminal matter in Georgia. A conviction could lead to serious consequences such as having to pay a fine or an increase in insurance premiums, civil liability, suspension or revocation of your driving privileges, probationary conditions and jail time. If you happen to have a bad driving history , are under 21 or possess a Commercial Driver’s License, you should consult with counsel before you take any action in court. Our Assistant Public Defenders are in court everyday protecting our client’s driving privileges or taking steps to restore them.
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. This office represents former clients on appeal as well as other individuals who may have represented themselves or had other counsel at trial, which meet the indigence requirements for appellate counsel. The statutory procedures for appealing a case require specialized expertise and knowledge of the appellate laws.