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The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees you the right to be assisted by legal counsel during criminal proceeding. If you cannot afford legal counsel and meet the federal poverty guidelines, you will be provided legal counsel at the city’s expense.
The public defender cannot represent you until the Judge appoints him/her to your case. In order to qualify you must be indigent, and thus unable to pay for the services of a private legal attorney. RCW 10.101.010 defines indigent, and explains the requirements that must be met in order to qualify as indigent.
Each court is different. At Gig Harbor Municipal Court, you will have the opportunity to apply for a public defender at your first hearing by completing the application located inside the courtroom. The judge will review your completed application and make a determination of whether you qualify for public defense services. You may also apply for public defense services at any point during the case.
If the judge has determined that you qualify for public defense services, an attorney from the Pierce County Department of Assigned Counsel will be appointed to your case. You will be notified in writing by the Court Clerk of your attorney’s name and contact information before you leave the courtroom. In most cases the attorney assigned to your case will be the same attorney present during your arraignment.
A public defender has the same responsibilities as a private defense attorney, including but not limited to, being present during all of your court appearances, answering your questions regarding the case, and providing legal advice in your case. If your case proceeds to trial, a public defender will perform the same actions as would a private attorney, including execution of discovery, deposing witnesses, calling witnesses during trial, and cross-examining the prosecution's witnesses during trial. A public defender is also able to negotiate with prosecution during pre-trial proceedings, potentially reaching a resolution not requiring a jury trial.
A public defender is unable to assist you with any legal questions unrelated to the case to which he/she has been assigned. Areas public defenders are unable to assist with include cases in which charges have not yet been filed, appeals of any kind, civil infractions, and Department of Licensing (DOL) hearings regarding your driver’s license.
If you are concerned with the conduct of your public defender, please use the contact information below to report your concern. In your correspondence, please provide your name and case number, and specifically identify the issues that are creating your concern. You may email, mail, or personally deliver your correspondence to:
Pierce County Department of Assigned Counsel Attn: Michael Kawamura 949 Market Street, Suite 334 Tacoma, WA 98402 (253) 798-6062
Email Michael Kawamura
Additional information about lawyer conduct is available at the Washington State Bar Association webpage.