Client Information

Frequently Asked Questions

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Do I Need a Public Defender?

The Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of California provides legal services in federal criminal cases to people who are unable to retain private counsel. You may need a Federal Public Defender if you are under investigation for a federal offense, if you were contacted by a federal law enforcement agency, or if you were subpoenaed to appear in U.S. District Court.

You have the right to speak to an attorney prior to questioning and to have an attorney with you during questioning. If you are contacted by a federal law enforcement agency, tell them that you are requesting an attorney and contact one of our offices. Some examples of federal law enforcement agencies are found below:

U.S. Attorney's Office (USAO)
Department of Justice (DOJ)
Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Secret Service (USSS)
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
National Park Service (NPS)
Postal Inspector (USPIS)

Can family members attend court proceedings?
The courts are open to the public. Family members are welcome to attend all court proceedings with very limited exceptions. Please ensure that the date and times are correct the day before the hearing, as the hearing may have been rescheduled for a different time or date. Family support of a criminal defendant is critical, and we strongly encourage family members to attend hearings of their loved ones. However, family and friends may not speak directly to the judge unless they are asked to do so. Audience members who are being disruptive will be removed from the courtroom.

How long do cases last?
The length of time each case takes varies depending on the type of case, facts of the case, and how the individual charged with the case decides to proceed. The length also varies between trial, appellate, and habeas cases. You should contact the attorney responsible for the case to receive more information about case length.

How can I find out information about my family member’s case?
Speaking with the attorney assigned to the case is the best way to find out details about the case. Because of attorney-client privilege, the attorney is not allowed to share information about the case unless the person charged with the offense has authorized the attorney to do so.

Where do I send documents that might be helpful to a family member facing sentencing?
Do not send the documents to the judge assigned to the case. Instead, send them to our office for the attorney assigned to the case. If you have letters or documents that need translation, our office can ensure that the documents are translated prior to the judge’s review.

What type of clothing is appropriate to wear in federal court?
Federal court is more formal than most state courts. Suits, ties, and other formal wear are not necessary, but shorts, halters, tank tops, any clothing exposing the midriff or underclothing, beachwear, flip-flops, pool shoes, or t-shirts with inappropriate graphics or wording are not recommended.

Are there any alternative programs instead of traditional prosecution? What’s CAP court?
The CAP Program is an alternative to traditional prosecution and sentencing that seeks to address some of the primary causes of criminal offenses – substance use disorders, mental health issues, and deficient life-skills. Thus, to qualify for application to CAP Program, a client must demonstrate that he or she has had an alcohol or drug problem and be released from custody.

Of particular importance is the applicant’s ability to show how and why any of those issues may have contributed to their alleged offense conduct. For example, did someone engage in the distribution of a controlled substance or in some other offense to help with their addiction?

Nonetheless, certain individuals with addiction issues may not be qualified for the CAP Program. This group typically includes:

  • Those with who are leaders in large scale fraud or drug distribution offenses;

  • Those whose offenses were committed with acts of violence;

  • Involved in child exploitation offenses, including possession or distribution of child pornography.

For more information about the program and its requirements, please download the participant guide.

Petty Offenses

Have you received a citiation related to an offense in a National Park or the Presidio?

Felony Offenses

Have you been charged with a federal felony?

parole, early termination of supervised release, and treaty transfer

Do you have questions about federal parole, early termination of supervision, or dealing with a treaty transfer?