The Office of Defense Services provides a variety of legal and support services to its clients throughout the state. Every case is handled by skilled professionals who are accredited in their field of expertise.
The ODS employs over 75 full-time attorneys with the office who receive support from a staff of interpreters, criminal investigators, forensic nurses, forensic social specialists, mitigation specialists, client advocates, psychological and/or medical or psychiatric experts, and other experts as needed. As the office has expanded over the years, new units and divisions have been developed to better serve our clients.
Our trial attorneys are skilled professionals who are admitted to the Delaware bar and provide quality legal representation to our clients. They advocate for the best possible resolution to a client’s case. That could include a diversionary program, a dismissal, a nolle prosequi (dropping of the charges), a plea or a verdict at trial. In addition, 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.
The Office of Defense Services has lawyers placed in all three counties and in each of the state’s correctional facilities. They represent clients of all ages across all of the state’s courts.
Attorneys with the unit represent individuals charged with felonies, and who face potentially serious consequences like becoming a habitual offender or facing life in prison.
Attorneys with the unit represent individuals charged with misdemeanors and certain motor vehicle offenses, like Driving Under the Influence (DUI).
In addition to representing youth charged with a crime, attorneys in the unit also represent adults involved in domestic violence cases.
Formed in 2009, the homicide unit oversees each homicide case and ensures that clients receive the best legal representation possible.
Attorneys with the unit provide legal representation to all youth charged with a crime in Family Court. Attorneys in the unit are stationed in each county and are specially-trained to represent juveniles.
The Appellate Division represents youth and indigent adult clients in appellate litigation as well as post-disposition matters such as expungements, pardons, juvenile sex offender registry removals, sentence modifications and commutations. Additionally, due to their knowledge and experience, Appellate Division attorneys assist other ODS divisions with difficult legal issues.
Attorneys in the Direct Appeal Unit handle appeals for clients who were represented at trial by our office or who were formerly represented by a private attorney but have become eligible as a result of incarceration. Attorneys with our office have taken numerous cases to the Delaware Supreme Court, most recently successfully arguing that the state’s death penalty was unconstitutional in Rauf v. State, and 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, have had such success.
ODS recently added the Post Disposition Unit to assist clients who continue to suffer the negative effects of an arrest, adjudication or conviction. In Delaware, there are opportunities available for individuals who meet a very specific set of criteria to obtain relief from some of these negative effects. For example, an individual may petition for an expungement, a pardon, or a sentence commutation. Additionally, children who are on the sex offender registry can, under certain circumstances, petition to be removed from the registry. Where appropriate, the Post Disposition Unit provides legal assistance to clients in pursuing available avenue(s) of relief.
The Special Litigation Unit handles a wide variety of litigation that seeks to champion the constitutional and statutory rights of Delaware citizens in criminal and delinquency matters. The unit works closely with ODS trial attorneys and members of the Delaware criminal defense bar to identify and challenge systemic and pervasive unfair practices within the criminal justice system.
Employees with the Intake Unit are the first point of contact for potential clients. The interviewers conduct eligibility screenings and preliminary factual investigations for incarcerated and non-incarcerated individuals. They also gather necessary information regarding a potential client’s medical, mental health and substance abuse history so that appropriate referrals may be made to the Forensic Social Specialist Unit, the Mitigation Specialist Unit, and the Forensic Services Unit.
Investigators assist attorneys by gathering facts about the alleged offense(s), interviewing witnesses; serving subpoenas; collecting, preserving and evaluating evidence; and conducting surveillance. These investigators have a background in criminal investigation and, therefore, provide invaluable expertise to the attorneys.
The Forensic Services Unit provides in-house expert consulting services for cases involving forensic issues, autopsy reports, sexual assault reports, medical records and other scientific studies. The unit consists of an attorney who is also a registered nurse, trained in forensic science, who assists trial attorneys in identifying cases requiring forensic research and expertise; an attorney with a Masters Degree in Forensic Science and five years of Medical Examiner’s Office experience; and a Masters-level forensic legal nurse consultant.
In 1980, the office established the first Psycho-Forensic Unit (now known as the Forensic Social Specialist Unit) of any public defender office in the nation. The unit consists of Masters-level professionals who assist the attorneys in their goal of providing the best possible legal representation to the client. The Forensic Social Specialists accomplish this task by obtaining relevant background information on a client’s medical, mental-health and substance-abuse history; connecting the client with treatment services, developing client-specific plans for conditional pre-trial release, alternatives to incarceration and mitigation at sentencing; and assisting attorneys in the hiring, communication and presentation of expert witnesses to provide mental-health defenses and/or mitigating testimony.
Mitigation specialists assist attorneys in the development and presentation of mitigation evidence in trial and appeals. These specialists have received training in identifying, documenting and interpreting symptoms of mental impairments; potential signs of neurobiological deficits; long term consequences of deprivation and neglect during developmental years; social, cultural, and ethnic influences on behavior; and the presence, severity and consequences of exposure to chronic trauma.