Legal Services for Our Community
The Department of Public Defense provides attorneys to people who are financially eligible and who are facing certain kinds of criminal and civil proceedings. Generally, the Department of Public Defense provides attorneys to:
- people who have been charged with a crime and face the possibility of jail time
- people who could lose their children due to a dependency action
- people who face involuntary commitment to a mental health facility
- people with outstanding warrants in any King County court
- youth who have been charged with an offense or face certain civil proceedings
- people who face contempt of court for failure to pay child support
- people who face civil commitment as sexually violent predators (RCW 71.09)
- people who would like to get their felony or misdemeanor convictions vacated
How to obtain an attorney
A financial interview is required to see if you are eligible for a public defender. These interviews -- also called financial screenings -- can take place over the phone or in person. To screen by phone, call 206-477-9727. Interviewers are available by phone from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. (Interviewers take their last interview at 4:15 p.m.) To screen in person, come to DPD's main office in Seattle or to a courthouse location. Click here for hours and specific locations for in-person screenings.
At the interview, either over the phone or in person, a DPD screener will ask you questions about your financial situation and determine if you qualify for a public defender.
- If you are found indigent, it means you cannot afford an attorney. You will be assigned to a public defense division.
- If you are found able to contribute, it means you have enough money that you cannot be found indigent, but you do not have enough money to hire a private attorney. You will be assigned to a public defense division, but you will be asked to sign a promissory note. The note means that you will make payments to help pay for your attorney. King County will send you a monthly bill, giving you up to 12 months to pay for your attorney.
- If you are found not indigent, it means you do not qualify for a public defender. In this case, you must hire an attorney on your own. Please see the resources page for places to find legal help in the area.
If you are assigned to a public defender division, call the division four business days after your interview to find out the name of your attorney.
Make sure you show up at your scheduled hearing. There will be an attorney there to represent you.
The screener is not an attorney and cannot give you legal advice.
More information about eligibility
To receive an attorney, you must be considered eligible under DPD's eligibility standards.
Eligibility is tied to the current federally established poverty level. But because of the high cost of living in King County, a client can be above the federal poverty level and still be eligible for a public defender at no cost or little cost. Equity in a home, ownership of a car or other motor vehicle, or money in a retirement savings accounts are not factored into the determination of financial eligibility.
Please call one of DPD’s financial screeners to see if you qualify. Our screeners can be reached at 206-477-9727 and are available from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.
DPD provides attorneys to adults facing certain charges. You may apply for a public defender if you have been charged with:
- a felony in King County Superior Court, Domestic Violence Court or Drug Diversion Court
- a misdemeanor in King County District Court, King County Domestic Violence Court or King County Mental Health Court
- a misdemeanor in Seattle Municipal Court
- contempt of court for failing to pay child support in King County Superior Court
You may also apply for a public defender if:
- the state Department of Social and Health Services has taken away your children in a dependency action in King County Superior Court
- you are filing a misdemeanor appeal in King County Superior Court
- you have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility
- you have an outstanding warrant in King County
- you are facing a civil commitment as a sexually violent predator (RCW 71.09)
In juvenile matters, DPD provides an attorney to:
- youth facing criminal charges in Juvenile Court or Juvenile Drug Court
- youth facing an at-risk, CHINS or truancy petition
- youth over the age of 12 in a dependency case
- legally free children in a dependency case
DPD does not provide attorneys for:
- civil lawsuits
- divorce cases
- child support hearings (except in instances of contempt of court with potential jail time)
- traffic infractions
- other civil matters or non-criminal matters
- cases filed outside of King County