Frequently Asked Questions

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  • What is the Rhode Island Public Defender?
  • Can I get a Public Defender?
  • Do Public Defenders handle civil matters such as eviction, divorce, or debt collection?
  • How is a Public Defender different from a private attorney?
  • What is the difference between a Public Defender and a Court Appointed Lawyer?
  • What is attorney-client privilege?
  • How do I get in contact with my Public Defender?
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The Rhode Island Public Defender (RIPD) is a firm of lawyers who defend adults and juveniles accused of committing crimes, and represent parents who are threatened with loss of custody of their children because of neglect or abuse allegations. The RIPD operates exactly like a law firm, except that it is funded by government instead of by client fees to serve individuals who cannot afford to retain private counsel. Supported by professional social workers, investigators and interpreters, we represent clients in state court proceedings from the first appearance before a judge through trial or hearing, as well as through appeal if necessary.
If you are charged with a criminal offense or you are threatened with the loss of custody of your children to the state and you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you should interview to see if you are eligible for a public defender. For information on intake and eligibility click here
The Public Defender Office can only represent people charged with crimes or facing loss of custody of a child to the State; we do not represent people on such matters as divorces, car accidents, evictions, wills and consumer complaints. If you are unable to pay for an attorney and have a non-criminal problem, you may be eligible for free representation through Rhode Island Legal Services (401-274-2652) or the RI Bar Association's Volunteer Lawyer Program (401-421-7758). See also our Civil Legal Resources Referral List.
A Public Defender is a lawyer who provides representation to eligible defendants free of charge and specializes in defending adults or juveniles accused of committing crimes or parents who are threatened with loss of custody of their children due to abuse or neglect allegations. Public defenders are full-time, salaried attorneys who are educated and licensed in the same way as private attorneys. The primary difference is that private lawyers must be hired and paid for by individuals retaining them; Public Defender lawyers are paid for by state and federal funds.
A Public Defender is an attorney who is a salaried employee of the Rhode Island Public Defender and exclusively represents eligible defendants in criminal or parental rights proceedings. A Court Appointed Lawyer is an attorney in private practice that may be appointed and paid for by the court to represent an individual who cannot afford to hire an attorney if the Rhode Island Public Defender is unable to represent them due to a conflict of interest or some other reason. Both Public Defenders and Court Appointed Lawyers are educated and licensed in the same way and both represent financially eligible clients free of charge, but court appointed attorneys are not employees of the Rhode Island Public Defender.
Attorney-client privilege means that there is a confidential relationship which exists between a client and a Public Defender lawyer and any and all Public Defender staff. This means that no employee of the Rhode Island Public Defender may disclose anything to prosecutors, police, judges or other people (including members of the defendant's family) without a client's permission.
You can contact your Public Defender by phone or email. Many of our attorneys are in court throughout the mornings so they may be easier to reach over the phone in the afternoon.