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FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
Are Public Defenders real lawyers?

Absolutely! All Tuolumne County Public Defenders are attorneys who are members of the State Bar and are licensed to practice law in the State of California. In order to become a Tuolumne County Deputy Public Defender, a lawyer who has already passed the State Bar examination must also go through an interview and examination process so that the Public Defender can make sure that the person has the intellectual ability, the legal knowledge, and the commitment to practice criminal defense law.


How do I get a Public Defender?

You must first attend your court date and speak with the judge. At that time, you can request a public defender by filling out a financial statement with the court to show you cannot afford to hire private counsel. If the court approves your request, then the court will set a new court date for you to appear with your Public Defender.


I forgot my court date. What do I do?

If you don’t know your next court date, don’t put off calling to find out! Missing a court date without a really good reason might result in the judge taking you into custody when you do show up, or a warrant being issued for your arrest. The easiest way to find out your next court date is to call the Public Defender’s Office. In most circumstances, our staff will be able to tell you the date, time, and location of your next court date. 


What do I do if I miss a court date? How do I find out if there is a bench warrant for my arrest?

If you have missed your court date, it is possible that the judge issued a bench warrant.  It is better to deal with a bench warrant than to ignore it and take your chances on being arrested and jailed. The Tuolumne County court does not permit matters to be placed on calendar to surrender on a warrant. You must turn yourself in at the Tuolumne County Jail at 175 W. Yaney St., Sonora, CA.  It often takes a few days for a warrant to be issued, so it is best to call the jail daily at (209) 533-5812. When you are advised that a warrant has been issued, go to the jail to surrender before 8:00 a.m.  By doing this you are likely to be on the video arraignment calendar the next day.


If the police contact me, do I have to speak with them?

No. If you are questioned by law enforcement, it is essential to keep in mind the Miranda warnings: "You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and may be used against you in court; you have the right to an attorney before and during any questioning; if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to assist you."

State clearly that you wish to have an attorney present before and during any questioning. If law enforcement continues to question you after you have requested an attorney, repeat your request for an attorney and otherwise remain silent.


What should I do if the police want to search me or my belongings?

Law enforcement is under no duty to advise you of your rights in order to search you or your property. Nevertheless, law enforcement can only search you or your property under certain circumstances. While you do have the right to refuse to be searched or have your property searched, there are situations where law enforcement can search you or your property without your consent. If you do not consent to being searched by law enforcement, you should clearly tell the police that you do not want to be searched. If law enforcement has a search warrant, ask for a copy of the warrant.