Role, Functions, and Services of the LA County Public Defender
The Los Angeles County Public Defender is a law office established and funded by the County of Los Angeles. (Click here to learn the history of the office.) The functions of the office are defined by the county charter and by California state law.

The attorneys and other staff employed by the office render legal services to individuals who are accused of public offenses, and who cannot afford to retain the services of a private attorney. We also represent any person under the age of 18 who is facing juvenile delinquency proceedings, or regarding whom the state has instituted wardship proceedings because of habitual truancy or incorrigibility.

We represent individuals who are involuntarily detained in medical facilities in a variety of mental health proceedings because of purported mental disabilities, those as to whom conservatorship proceedings have been instituted because they are alleged to be gravely disabled, and patients whose competency to refuse medical treatment is challenged.

Finally, we represent individuals who are subject to contempt proceedings for violation of court orders, such as child support and child visitation or custody orders. More detail regarding the functions can be found in the frequently asked questions section on this website. Click on the FAQS tab above to select an information category.

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The Appellate Branch handles writs arising from cases handled by the trial staff of the Public Defender’s Office.  The Appellate Branch also defends prosecution writs and appeals in cases handled by the trial staff.  The Appellate Branch also conducts much of the training for the Office.  The Appellate Branch is located in the Hall of Records, 320 W. Temple Street, Room 590, Los Angeles, California.

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Recognizing that DNA cases are like no others, the Los Angeles County Public Defender established the first DNA unit in the state comprised of lawyers trained to handle litigation involving complex scientific issues.  Competent representation of defendants whose charge stem from DNA match evidence requires a level of understanding of complex scientific issues, as well as up to date knowledge of the developments in the technology. In addition, lawyers who represent individuals in such cases must keep current not only with the local appellate court decisions, but also with all the trial court decisions throughout the United States. A lawyer cannot effectively and efficiently handle these cases without first having specialized training. Thus, the Los Angeles Public Defender maintains a unit of lawyers devoted solely to the representation of individuals who are charged with crimes in which the primary evidence against the person is DNA evidence.

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The Public Integrity Assurance Section (PIAS) of the Public Defender’s Office focuses on the investigation and litigation of wrongful convictions primarily resulting from police misconduct.

In the wake of the LAPD Rampart corruption scandal, PIAS was instrumental in successfully litigating numerous post-conviction Writs of Habeas Corpus and Motions to Vacate based on police misconduct and wrongful conviction of innocent clients.

PIAS attorneys also handle post-conviction cases of former clients where the cases involved Intimate Partner Battery which was precluded as a defense at trial, Innocence Project cases where DNA could be used to exonerate clients, and cases involving misapplication of the Sexual Offender Registration statutes.  In addition to post-conviction assistance, PIAS attorneys provide ongoing training and litigation support for deputy public defenders confronting issues of peace officer misconduct.

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Enacted in 1996, The SVP act has resulted in over 1000 persons being committed to Coalinga State Hospital for potentially an indefinite term of commitment.  The Department of Corrections is mandated to screen every inmate convicted of sexual assault or molestation whenever they are in prison custody on any offense, or any parole violation to determine if they qualify for commitment as a sexually violent predator (SVP).

To qualify for commitment under the SVP Act, an individual must have “been convicted of a sexually violent offense against one or more victims and have a diagnosed mental disorder that makes the person a danger to the health and safety of others in that it is likely that he or she will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior.” (Welf. & Inst. Code 6600, subd.(a)(1).)  If the jury or court determines the person to be a Sexually Violent Predator, the commitment shall be for an indeterminate term to the custody of the Department of Mental Health. W&I Code 6604.

The SVP Unit consists of experienced attorneys and paralegals practicing exclusively in this highly specialized area of law.

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Mental Health

The L.A. County Office of the Public Defender represents indigent clientele from all over the county of Los Angeles who are subject to civil mental health commitments, and is mandated by statute to do so.  The Mental Health Court, commonly referred to as Department 95, is the only adult mental health court in the county of Los Angeles.

Each deputy public defender in the Mental Health Court is assigned a variety of cases ranging from representation of potential conservatees contesting an LPS (Lanterman-Petris-Short) conservatorship petition to clients whose criminal proceedings are suspended due to a doubt expressed as to their competency regarding the criminal case.

Clients already in a state mental hospital due to an NGI (not guilty by reason of insanity) plea or a finding that the client is a mentally disordered offender (MDO) have a right to be represented by the Public Defender when petitions to extend involuntary treatment are filed by the district attorney’s office. We represent mentally retarded and developmentally disabled individuals in Welfare & Institutions Code section 6500 cases wherein the regional center believes the individual is a danger to self and/or to others.  The petition is filed through the district attorney’s office. 

Finally, the Public Defender’s Office is the advocate for clients who file writs of habeas corpus to seek release from an involuntary hold at a mental health facility anywhere in the county.

Also see Juvenile Mental Health here.

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©2012 Los Angeles County Public Defender's Office. All Rights Reserved.