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County Home => Public Defender => Criminal Justice
Criminal Justice

The Washoe County Public Defender's Office represents indigent persons in cases where a loss of liberty is possible. The loss of liberty can include incarceration, involuntary commitment to a hospital for treatment of mental illness, or a loss of parental rights.

If you are charged with a misdemeanor offense within Washoe County or the City of Sparks, you will be seen in either Reno Justice Court or Sparks Justice Court.
If you are charged with a gross misdemeanor or a felony in Washoe County, the City of Reno, or the City of Sparks you will be seen in either Reno Justice Court or Sparks Justice Court. If you are found indigent, you will be assigned a Public Defender.

We do NOT represent persons charged in Municipal Court. If you are charged with a misdemeanor or traffic violation within the City of Reno, you will be seen in the Reno Municipal Court. Please contact the Reno Municipal Court Administrator at 775-334-2290 for indigent representation information.

If you are arrested ...

your first court hearing will be an Initial Arraignment Hearing. At this hearing you will be read the charges against you. Usually, this hearing will take place within 48 hours of your arrest. If you plead 'not guilty' you will be asked if you can afford a private attorney. If not, you will be allowed to apply for a Public Defender. Court Services reviews your information and if you qualify they will forward your case to the Public Defender's office. Please allow approximately 7 working days from the date of your application to be notified of your Public Defender. You will receive a letter from your Public Defender notifying you of your next court date, your attorney's name, and his/her phone number. Once you receive this information, be sure to contact your attorney to discuss your case! If you change your address or phone number, please advise your attorney so they can communicate with you regarding your case.

If you are charged with a Misdemeanor ...

there are three types of hearings. You may have just one or all three depending on your case. They are Pre-Trial Hearing, Misdemeanor Trial Hearing, and Plea Entry/Sentencing. Your attorney will be present to represent you throughout this process. (more information)

If you are charged with a Gross Misdemeanor or Felony ...

your next hearing will be a Preliminary Hearing. Your attorney will be present to represent you at this hearing. This is where the State must prove that there is probable cause to accuse you of the crime. At this time, your case will either be dismissed, plea bargained, or your case will be continued in District Court.
Probable cause is an assessment by a Justice of the Peace that evidence shows him/her that a crime was committed and you were the person who committed the crime. This is not a trial. There is no jury. The State does not have to prove the case 'beyond a reasonable doubt' at a preliminary hearing.
In District Court, you will have an arraignment, trial, and sentencing/dismissal. At a preliminary hearing, if the State does not establish probable cause that a crime was sommitted and that the accused was the person who committed the crime, the case will be dismissed. At a trial, the State must prove every element of each charge brought against you to the entire jury and must prove the offenses beyond a reasonable doubt. If the State does not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, the charge(s) will be dismissed. (more information)