Alameda County Public Defenders Office

Alameda County Public Defender’s

Alameda County Public Defenders Office

According to law, the Public Defender is the primary defense attorney for all indigent accused persons in Alameda County. The Alameda County Public Defenders office is mandated to defend in the State court system all persons within the County who are required by statute, State or Federal Constitution to be provided with legal counsel at public expense. The mission of the Public Defender is to provide a fully competent, effective and ethical defense for each client whose representation has been entrusted to the office; to conduct that representation in a manner that promotes fairness in the administration of justice; and to provide all mandated legal services in a cost effective and efficient manner. Location:1401 Lakeside Drive Suite 400, Oakland CA 94612: Telephone:(510) 272-6600 Diane Bellas


All services of the Public Defender are mandated. A number of overlapping mandates apply: See the U.S. Constitution (Amendments VI and XIV); the Constitution of California (Article 1, Section 15); California Penal Code sections 686, 859, 982.2, and 987; Government Code sections 27700 and 27706; and the Alameda County Charter, section 27. The right of indigent persons to competent and effective counsel supplied by the government has been established by the United States Supreme Court in a number of specific areas: Powell vs. Alabama (1932) 287 U.S. 45;Gideon vs. Wainwright (1963) 273 U.S. 335 (felony cases); Argersinger vs. Hamlin (1972) 407 U.S. 25, 37-38 (misdemeanor cases); In re Gault (1967) 387 U.S. 1 (juvenile cases).


Additionally, California law requires a publicly funded legal defense in other proceedings: See Welfare and Institutions Code sections 317 and 300 (child dependency proceedings); Welfare and Institutions Code sections 5365 and 6500 (involuntary mental illness commitments), and Probate Code section 1470 et seq. (involuntary conservatorships). The federal constitution, state constitution, and California statutory law guarantee that all persons who face the potential loss of significant liberty in criminal or other special proceedings have the right to an attorney, and if unable to afford an attorney, one will be provided at government expense. The Alameda County Charter vests the Public Defender with the responsibility of providing these legal defense services to those who lack the means to hire their own attorney.


Finally, the California State Bar Act (Business and Professions Code sections 6000 through 6228) and the California Rules of Professional Conduct, govern the ethical and professional responsibilities of the Public Defender and all of the attorneys employed by the County of Alameda.


Alameda County Public Defenders

The Office of the Alameda County Public Defender (ACPD) is the second oldest Public Defender office in the United States. In 1927 Earl Warren, then the Alameda County District Attorney, successfully campaigned to have the Public Defender included in the new County Charter. Willard Shea was the first person appointed, and served until 1950. Earl Warren went on to be the attorney general of California, governor of California, and Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. ACPD has grown dramatically from its charter year when it began as a tiny law office with one attorney and a single secretary handling less than three hundred matters in a single twelve month period. Nearly eighty years later, ACPD is major public law office operating in five branch office locations, employing 104 attorneys, 20 field investigators, and support staff. Public Defender attorneys and staff now deal with an incoming caseload exceeding 4,500 new legal matters every month. The practice areas of the Public Defender are:

  • Adult criminal defense (from drunk driving cases to death penalty murders);
  • Juvenile criminal defense (brought under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602);
  • Mental commitment defense (providing a defense, after court appointment, to individuals involuntarily confined as a result of alleged mental illness).


In the first two categories, ACPD lawyers oppose lawyers from the Alameda County District Attorney’s office; in the second two categories, Public Defender attorneys oppose lawyers from the County Counsel’s office. County funded legal services are provided only to those who lack the means to hire private counsel and all Public Defender client applicants are carefully screened by legal staff for indigency. The Rules of Professional Conduct require that the Public Defender decline representation in approximately 10% of incoming matters because of conflicts of interest (as for example when more than one defendant is arrested for the same crime); these cases are handled under contract with the Alameda County Bar Association (ACBA) by appointed private attorneys.