Public Defender

Find questions and answers regarding many different topics here.

NOVIS stands for Non-Violence Intervention Service.  NOVIS is an intervention group in Adams County, which provides a 26-week educational program for men who are violent, controlling and/or abusive, teaching alternatives to coercive, dominating and violent behavior in intimate relationships. Read more...

You must call (717) 261-3863 to schedule an appointment with our Paralegal to fill out your application for representation by a public defender.  Application for representation must be made in person unless otherwise directed by the Paralegal.  
You will need to bring a copy of the following when applying:  
1) your charging papers when applying (generally, a criminal complaint),
2) your last 4 paystubs from your employer,
3) your most recent Federal Tax Return,
4) your most recent statements for any saving or checking accounts, and
5) any mortgage on any property you own.  Applications may not be accepted without the proper paperwork at the discretion of the Paralegal.  
Application must be made five (5) days prior to your preliminary hearing.  If applying for representation on a case already scheduled before the Court of Common Pleas, the application must be submitted two (2) Fridays prior to the scheduled court date. This is to ensure we have time to file for a continuance, if necessary. If you are in Franklin County Jail, you automatically qualify and a public defender will meet with you before your court date.  
Those individuals incarcerated in other jails or prisons should write to the Office of the Public Defender if requesting representation.  
The Office of the Public Defender is located in the Franklin County Court House, 157 Lincoln Way East, 4th Floor, Chambersburg, PA 17201.  The telephone number is (717) 261-3863.

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

Each applicant for representation will be interviewed by the Paralegal/Office Administrator of the Office of the Public Defender, 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 Franklin 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.  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.

The law does not provide any certain rules for the number of times a case may be continued.  Therefore, there is no limit to the number of continuances that may be granted.  Likewise, there is no absolute right to any continuances at all. The determination of whether to grant a continuance is solely within the discretion of the Judge.

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. Read more...


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
230 Lincoln Way East, Suite A
Chambersburg, PA 17201
Local Office (717) 264-5354