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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Public Defender?

A Public Defender is a lawyer provided by the Public Defender Department to represent indigent persons charged with criminal offenses.

Are Public Defenders real lawyers?

Yes. All Public Defenders are licensed attorneys who have completed law school and are sworn members of the New Mexico Bar. Many Public Defenders have been recognized as some of the best criminal defense attorneys in the State of New Mexico.

How do I obtain the services of a Public Defender?

The Public Defender Department can only do work for people who have been found eligible for representation by a Public Defender. A person’s eligibility will be determined based on household income and assets. To see if you qualify, you must visit one of our district offices where an eligibility clerk will ask you a series of questions in order to complete the eligibility application. The items required to process an application (one per case) are proof of income (married applicants are required to bring proof of spouse’s income as well), court paperwork, and a $10.00 non-refundable application fee.

If you reside in counties where no office exists, you apply at the district or magistrate court in your area.

Where is your office?

The Office of the Public Defender maintains local offices throughout the State of New Mexico. To locate the Office nearest to you, click on District Offices located at the top of the home page.

What are the Public Defender Department’s hours of operations?

The various Public Defender Offices take applications at different times. Here are the times applications are processed in different offices.

ALL DISTRICT OFFICES EXCEPT ALBUQUERQUE ARE CLOSED FOR THE LUNCH HOUR FROM 12:00-1:00 PM

Santa Fe NM- 8:30-11:30 am resumes at 1:30-3:30

Espanola NM (Satellite Office, located at the Magistrate Court)- Wednesdays 8:00-400 pm & Fridays 8:30-12:00

Albuquerque NM- 8:30-3:00 pm

Las Cruces NM- Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, & Friday 8:00-11:45 resumes at 1:00-4:00 & Wednesdays 1:00- 4:00 pm

Carlsbad NM- 8:00-4:00 pm

Hobbs NM- 10-2:00 pm

Roswell NM- 10:00-12:00 resumes at 2:00-4:00 pm

Taos NM- 8:15-11:45 am closed 12:00-1:00 pm 1:15-4:00 pm

Clovis NM- Monday-Thursday 8:00 am-3:00 pm & Fridays 9-12 & 1-3:00 pm

Aztec NM- 8:00-11:45 am resumes at 1:00- 3:00 pm

Gallup NM- 8:00-12:00 pm resumes at 1:00- 5:00 pm

Alamogordo NM- 8:00-3:30 pm

What should I bring to the Public Defender Department to determine my eligibility?

1) $10.00 cash or money order (exact amount only)
2) Any and All Court Documents Pertaining to Your Present Case
3) List of Assets Owned
4) Proof of Income (any that apply)

    -Most Recent Paycheck Stub
    -W-2 or Last Year’s Tax Return
    -Proof of Unemployment Benefits
      (if you are unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits)
    -A Notarized or on Letterhead Letter from Employer Verifying Employment
      (if you do not receive check stubs from employer)
    *The letter must include your current take home pay.
    -1099 form or Tax Return from Previous Year
      (if self employed)
    -Financial Aid Award Letter from FAFSA or School
      (if a full time student)
    -Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
    -General Assistance (GA)
    -Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
    -Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)
    -Food Stamps (current award letter)
    -Medicaid
    -Disability Security Income (DSI)
    -Public Assisted Housing
    -Department of Health Case Management Services (DHMS).
    -A Notarized Letter from Person Providing Housing and/or Support for You
      (if not working, and not on assistance) *Letter must indicate how and how long this person has been supporting you.
      *The letter must be verified for a 12-month period.
    -Letter on Letterhead from Shelter, Feeding Center, or Homeless Agency
      (if homeless)
      *Letter must indicated that you are homeless and not on assistance.

If I am in Jail, how do I contact the Public Defender Department?

A representative from the Public Defender Department regularly visits the local jails to complete the application process.

How can a client help a public defender attorney?

Do not speak to anyone, including the police, about your case except your Public Defender lawyer.
Keep track of your court dates and times.
Come to court 15 minutes prior to your hearing.
Stay in touch with the attorney assigned to your case. If your telephone number or address changes be sure to update your attorney.
Bring all case related documents to court and office appointments.
Dress to impress when going to Court – like you are going to church.

What Makes Public Defender Representation So Good?

Highly Qualified.
Public Defender lawyers are chosen from a field of attorneys who apply. Only the best candidates are accepted to join the PD team. Also, unlike most other lawyers, PD lawyers work only in the criminal law field. Thus, PD lawyers are in court and advocating for clients more than most attorneys.

Dedicated to Clients.
Even though public defender lawyers are paid by the government, their duty of loyalty is with each individual client. PD lawyers take an ethical pledge to assert the constitutional rights of all clients and to work zealously to defend every client.

Backed with Excellent Resources.
Public defender attorneys work as a team on cases. Most clients have the benefit of many attorneys assisting with their defense. PD lawyers also have unlimited legal research access, a team of investigators, social workers, and paralegals to fight for clients.

Trained and Supervised.
Every PD Lawyer attends annual trainings to improve his or her trial and courtroom skills. All Public Defender lawyers attend bi-monthly trainings on criminal law topics. Including; speedy trial rights, grand jury rights, trial preparation, and the rules of evidence. Additionally, every PD lawyer has a direct supervisor who trains and monitors progress on cases.

Dedicated to Public Service.
Attorneys hired by the public defender department in New Mexico have a demonstrated dedication to public service. Although most attorneys in the department could make more money in the private sector, they choose to work for people in the community who need and deserve to have strong and competent advocates in court. For PD Lawyers and our staff – it isn’t about money – it’s about equal justice.

What is a Grand Jury and What Does it Do?

A grand jury is a group of 12 regular people from the community that listen to evidence presented by the District Attorney. That evidence is usually in the form of testimony from witnesses, alleged victims, and police officers. After listening to the evidence, if 8 out of the 12 people decide there is probable cause (strong suspicion) that you committed a crime, they will issue an indictment (charge). If they do not find probable cause that you committed a crime, they will not issue an indictment (charge).

What happens after I have been assigned to a lawyer?

You must remain in contact with your Public Defender regularly and be present at all court appearances. (It is your responsibility to make sure that the Public Defender Department always has up-to-date contact information for you.) The assigned lawyer will request all copies of tangible items that the State intends to introduce at trial and work with you to prepare your legal defense in the matter.

Should I discuss my case with anyone other than my assigned lawyer or a representative from the Public Defender Department?

No. It is very important that you do not talk to anyone about your case without your assigned lawyer being present or without him/her giving you permission to do so. It is your responsibility to consult your Public Defender lawyer before you talk to anyone – you do not want to make a mistake that hurts your case!

If I am arrested, should I talk to the police?

If you are arrested, you should request to speak to a lawyer and you should obtain advice from a lawyer before answering police questions. If you ask to speak to a lawyer, a lawyer will be provided for you – wait and speak to that lawyer before answering questions.

I forgot my court date. How do I find out when it is?

You can find out your court date by contacting your attorney, bonding company, the courthouse, or by researching it through www.nmcourts.gov.

How do I get my sentence modified?

Sometimes it is possible to have a sentence modified. If you were represented by a Public Defender for the conviction in question and you are curious about whether a modification of your sentence is possible, contact your lawyer or the Public Defender Department for assistance.

How do I get an old conviction removed from my record?

The Public Defender Department is not authorized to assist in trying to have an old conviction removed from your record (this is called an expungement). You will need to contact a private attorney to discuss whether this is possible in your case.