For those individuals not incarcerated, application for Public Defender representation must be made in person at the Office of the Public Defender. Applicants need not have an appointment, but may simply come to the office during regular business hours and bring any paperwork they have received regarding their pending criminal charges.

Individuals who are incarcerated at Dauphin County Prison will routinely be seen by a Public Defender representative within several days of their admission to the facility to determine if they desire Public Defender representation.

Those individuals incarcerated in other prisons should write to the Office of the Public Defender if requesting representation.

The Office of the Public Defender is located in the Dauphin County Administration Building, 2 South 2nd Street, 2nd Floor, Harrisburg, PA 17101. The telephone number is (717) 780-6370.

Regular business hours are Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Each applicant for representation will be interviewed by an Investigator of the Office of the Public Defender, or another staff member, to determine financial qualification. Income qualifications for indigent representation are based upon Federal Poverty Guidelines. However, income is not the sole factor in the determination of qualification. Applicants will also be asked about any real estate, personal property, bank accounts, pensions, retirement accounts or other assets they may possess. Applicants may also be asked to provide copies of tax returns, mortgage statements, bank statements or other documents evidencing the complete financial circumstances.

Generally speaking, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that defendants in Summary level offenses for which a citation has been issued are not entitled to court-appointed counsel.  This prohibition applies to most Summary proceedings before Magisterial District Judges in Non-Traffic (NT) and Traffic (TR) dockets.  However, representation will be provided for certain such offenses where the law provides for the imposition of a jail sentence upon conviction. 

A Preliminary Hearing is the first hearing to be conducted in most Misdemeanor and Felony criminal cases, and are generally heard by Magisterial District Judges (MDJ).  The MDJ does not determine if the defendant is guilty or not guilty, but only if the Commonwealth has proven a prima facie case.  A prima facie case is one in which there is Probable Cause to believe that the person has committed the crime or crimes charged, even if there is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that would be required for conviction.  At the conclusion of the Preliminary Hearing, the MDJ will either dismiss the charges or send the charges to the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings.

The Preliminary Hearing is a critical stage of the litigation and individuals charged with a crime absolutely should have an attorney for this proceeding.  Commonwealth witnesses can be cross-examined at Preliminary Hearings, arguments to dismiss or reduce charges can be made by an attorney, negotiations with the District Attorney commence and other important decisions, such as modifications of bail, are entertained.

All individuals who are granted Public Defender representation will speak to an attorney before their Preliminary Hearing, although some of them may only do so on the day of that hearing.  Nonetheless, everyone will speak with an Investigator whose job it is to make necessary inquiries about the nature of the charges and allegations, and to prepare a memorandum of that interview to be reviewed by the assigned attorney prior to the Preliminary Hearing.  In more serious cases such as Murder and Rape, a defendant may have one or more meetings with the attorney prior the date of the Preliminary Hearing. 

Miscellaneous Court is the name given to hearings before Judges of the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas where a variety of “miscellaneous” matters may be addressed.  At these hearings, defendants and their attorneys appear before the Judge to provide the status of the case or to address ongoing issues related to the case.  Some individuals will enter guilty pleas or be sentenced on Miscellaneous Court dates.  No juries are present during Miscellaneous Court so jury trials are not held, although Miscellaneous Court may be the opportunity to advise the Court that a jury trial is requested and that all parties are ready to proceed.

ARD stands for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition.  It is a program by which certain defendants, charged with predominantly less serious Misdemeanor offenses, and who have no prior criminal records or meet the statutory requirements for admission to ARD, are allowed to undergo a period of Probation without pleading guilty, being found guilty or making any admission of wrongdoing whatsoever.  Upon successful completion of the Probation, the criminal charges will be dismissed and the defendant may have a right to have the entire record of the proceedings legally expunged. 

Individuals who have been provided notice that they are to attend a Probation or Parole Revocation Hearing are not automatically entitled to representation just because they were originally represented by a Public Defender at the time of the original prosecution.  The reason for this is that the passage of time may have changed the financial qualifications of the individual and a new determination must be made. 

Public Defenders are attorneys just like those in private practice.  They graduated from accredited law schools, passed the Pennsylvania Bar Examination and have been admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.  The only differences are that Public Defenders do not bill for their services, do not devote any part of their practice to non-criminal matters and do not practice in other county courts. 

PA Human Relations Commission
301 Chestnut Street
Harrisburg, PA
(717) 787-4410

Mid Penn Legal Services
213-A N. Front St. 
Harrisburg, PA 17101-2240
Local Office (717) 232-0581
Legal Aid
118 Locust Street  
Harrisburg, PA 17101
(717) 236-9486