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.
There are 77 full-time attorneys with an average 15.5 years of experience with the office who receive support from a staff of interpreters, criminal investigators, forensic nurses, psycho-forensic evaluators, 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 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.
There are several units within this division including:
The Office of Defense Services also has attorneys available to represent clients in a variety of other courts, including Newark’s Alderman’s Court, DUI offenses in the Justice of the Peace Court 11, and in some cases, matters before the Board of Parole.
Our appellate attorneys handle appeals for indigent clients who were represented at trial by our office or who were formerly represented by a private attorney but have become indigent 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, including the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, have had such success. Appellate attorneys work closely with trial attorneys by providing assistance for unique legal issues that arise prior to and during trial by conducting research and/or consultation.
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 Psycho-Forensic Evaluators and 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.
Forensic Services Unit
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 a 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 then-Public Defenders Office established the first Psycho-Forensic Unit of any public defender office in the nation. The unit consists of Masters-level Psycho-Forensic Evaluators (PFEs) who assist the attorneys in their goal of providing the best possible legal representation to the client. The PFEs 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.