The Public Defender’s Office (PDO) provides legal services to indigent and incarcerated clients statewide. The PDO maintains offices in New Castle County, Kent County and Sussex County. The PDO consists of approximately 70 licensed attorneys and 71 support staff who handle and average of 50,000 cases a year.
The PDO provides clients with access to interpreters, criminal investigators, forensic nurses, psycho-forensic evaluators, psychological and/or medical or psychiatric experts, and other experts as needed. The PDO also participates in boards, committees and programs designed to improve the Delaware criminal justice system.
The PDO trial attorneys are skilled professionals who are admitted to the Delaware bar and provide quality legal representation to our clients. The trial attorneys average 18 years of experience and 12 years of service as an Assistant Public Defender. All PDO trial attorneys are trained advocates who hone their skills on an ongoing basis by completing Continuing Legal Education classes. The PDO attorneys investigate the State’s case by carefully reviewing discovery materials and utilizing investigators and experts when needed. They meet with clients and defense witnesses to prepare and present viable defenses. They skillfully cross examine State witnesses and expose the weaknesses in the State’s case. They advocate for the best possible resolution of their client’s case which could include a dismissal, a nolle prosequi (dropping of the charges), a plea or a verdict at trial. In addition, the attorneys discuss with clients the possible collateral consequences of criminal convictions such as, but not limited to, sex offender registration, loss of driving privileges, and /or immigration issues.
Trial attorneys in the Superior Court Unit represent individuals who are charged with felonies through every stage of the process from arraignment through trial and appeal, if necessary. This caseload includes matters wherein the client is facing significant consequences, including minimum mandatory jail sentences of up to life imprisonment, and, in the most extreme circumstances, the death penalty. The attorneys zealously advocate for these clients by arguing complex legal, forensic and factual issues. In addition to their regular caseloads, Superior Court attorneys represent clients in violation of probation, capias and bail hearings.
The PDO Court of Common Pleas attorneys represent individuals charged with misdemeanor crimes and certain motor vehicle offenses, including Driving Under the Influence, through every stage of the process from arraignment through trial and appeal, if necessary. These attorneys also represent individuals charged with felonies at the preliminary hearing stage and at violation of probation hearings.
The PDO Family Court attorneys provide representation to adults in misdemeanor cases involving domestic violence or child victims. In addition, they represent adults at violation of probation hearings. The Family Court attorneys also provide representations to juveniles in criminal cases which include felonies, misdemeanors, bail hearings, amenability hearings, preliminary hearings and violations of probation. For both adults and juveniles, they provide representation through every stage of the process from arraignment through trial and appeal, if necessary.
Shortly after Brendan O’Neill was appointed as the Public Defender in 2009, he formed the homicide unit. This newly formed unit provides every homicide client with the best possible defense by ensuring that trial attorneys with the necessary expertise are assigned to each homicide case. The Homicide Unit Supervisor monitors the homicide case and allocates proper resources to support the defense. In addition, each capital defendant who faces the death penalty is represented by a capital defense team as specified by the American Bar Association. The team consists of a lead attorney, an associate attorney, a Mitigation Specialist, a Psycho-Forensic Evaluator, a fact investigator and, at least, one outside mental-health expert.
The PDO trial attorneys represent juveniles in the Justice of the Peace Courts charged with Contempt of a Truancy Order. These charges are handling by the Family Court Unit in the county in which the offense occurred. The PDO represents adults charged with offenses that carry the possibility of incarceration in Newark’s Alderman’s Court. The PDO also represents adults charged with DUI offenses in the Justice of the Peace Court 11. These DUI offenses are handled by the New Castle County Court of Common Pleas Unit. Additionally, the PDO handles a limited number of matters before the Board of Parole.
Attorneys in the Appellate Division handle appeals for indigent clients who were represented at trial by our office or who were formerly represented by a private attorney but have become indigent as a result of incarceration. The PDO has taken four cases to the United States Supreme Court of which it has won three. The decisions in those three cases became the law of the land. Few, if any other law firms in Delaware, including the Attorney General’s Office, have had such success. Appellate attorneys work closely with trial attorneys by providing assistance for unique legal issues that arise prior to and during trial by conducting research and/or consultation. The division also publishes a compendium of Delaware Supreme Court criminal cases four times a year. This compendium is distributed to all criminal defense attorneys in the state.