Client Portal

Client FAQs

Disclaimer

This site is meant to provide information of a general nature which you should verify with an attorney before relying on it. It does not provide legal advice and is not meant to establish an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice you should ALWAYS contact an attorney.

What Kind of Cases Does OPD Handle?

By law OPD is responsible for providing representation in many situations for people who are eligible, including:

  • A person charged with a felony or charged with a misdemeanor for which there is a possibility of jail time;
  • A youth who is charged with an offense and alleged to be delinquent or in need of intervention;
  • A person who is the subject of a petition for involuntary commitment for a mental illness, or for the appointment of a guardian or conservator;
  • A parent, guardian or other person with physical or legal custody whose child has been removed by the State.

OPD Does Not Represent People in These Cases

  • Child custody cases where the State is not involved
  • Child Support Hearings
  • Restraining Orders or Order of Protection Hearings
  • Landlord Tenant Issues
  • Social Security claims
  • Employer/employee cases
  • Debt collection
  • Property Rights
  • Divorce proceedings

See also: Montana Code Annotated § 47-1-104(4).

What is a Public Defender?

Public defenders are attorneys licensed by the State Bar of Montana. A public defender can either be an attorney employed by OPD or a private attorney who contracts with OPD to provide public defender services.

How Do I Apply for a Public Defender?

OPD prefers for applications to be completed online via the AdvOPD Client Portal, use the link below and select 'Clients' then your status as a new or existing user to login. 

Application

You will need:

  • Your most recent paystubs
  • Your most recent bank statements
  • Any documents that show you are receiving public assistance, Social Security or unemployment compensation
  • Additional documentation may be required

For more information, contact your local public defender office and ask to speak with the Eligibility Specialist.

How Do I Pay My Public Defender Fee?

If you were sentenced after 7/1/2017 and the Court assessed a Public Defender Fee, you may make an electronic payment through our online client portal.

You can also send a Cashier's/Certified check or money order to:

OPD 
Attn: A/R
17 W. Galena Street
Butte, MT 59701

Can I Choose My Own Attorney?

No. OPD assigns your case to an attorney based on several factors including experience, location, caseload, and in which court(s) the attorney regularly practices.

How Do I Find Out Who My Attorney Is?

OPD will open your file when it receives an appointment from the Court. OPD will assign your case to an attorney and notify you by letter of the attorney's name. This process usually takes just a day or two, but if there is a conflict of interest in your case it could take longer. You can also call your local OPD office to find out who your attorney is.

What is a Conflict?

There are many situations that create conflicts of interest, such as when a person accused of a crime becomes a witness to another crime. The same local office cannot represent both people. When there is a conflict of interest the case is referred to the Conflict Division to assign a lawyer who does not have a conflict of interest.

How Can I Get a Different Attorney?

If you have a legitimate complaint about your attorney, call the local OPD office and ask for the attorney's supervisor, who can resolve most problems. If you cannot reach the supervisor or if the supervisor cannot resolve the problem, you may submit a complaint via the Client Portal.

Criminal Justice 101

Know Your Rights - You Have the Right to Remain Silent

You have probably heard on television the speech that is read after an arrest: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you free of charge." These are the "Miranda warnings," which explain your constitutional right not to answer questions from the police and to have a lawyer appointed to represent you if you cannot afford to hire one.

The police may not read you the Miranda warnings since they are only required to read them when they intend to question a suspect. However, anything you say in the presence of a police officer might be used against you, even if the Miranda warnings have not been given. Police are even allowed to use statements they overhear you make during a telephone call, or while you are talking to other prisoners. Be extremely careful what you say while you are in custody.

If the police decide to question you, their goal will be to gain an admission that can be used in the case against you. Do not answer questions or make a statement to the police unless there is a lawyer present to protect your rights. Sometimes people under arrest decide to make statements without a lawyer because they believe that they can persuade the police to let them go, process them faster, or gain some other benefit. This almost never happens, and these statements can seriously hurt their case. If you have information that will help your case, wait to tell it to your lawyer, who will help you decide the best way to use this information.

If you are already represented by a lawyer, you should tell the police and ask them to notify your lawyer about your arrest.

You've Been Arrested

Once a person is arrested they usually have bond (bail) set within 24 hours of arrest, unless they were arrested over the weekend, in which case they would be seen by the judge on the next business day.

When you first appear in court the judge will ask you if you want to hire an attorney or if you want a public defender. If the judge appoints OPD, OPD will assign an attorney to represent you. In criminal cases you must complete an application and qualify for services. If you do not qualify, OPD will ask the court to reverse the appointment.

Friends or family may be able to visit you when you are in jail, depending on the jail's visitation schedule. You should also be able to communicate by phone or mail with people while you are in jail.

Your right to privacy is severely reduced once you are in custody. That means the police and prosecutors can listen to telephone calls and read letters you send or receive. You should not talk or communicate with anyone about your case but your lawyer.

Bond/Bail

Bail is money that some criminal defendants are required to deposit to guarantee they will return to court if released from jail while their cases are pending. The judge sets the amount, and the money is deposited with the clerk of the court. It is returned after the case is finished.

Bail may be posted as "cash," or through a bond. A bond is a legal contract that requires someone to pay money if a defendant fails to return to court. It is guaranteed by the assets of the person who posted it, such as real estate, savings, or valuable personal property. A "surety" bond is one in which another person or a bail bond company undertakes to make sure a defendant returns to court, upon penalty of losing the bail amount if the defendant fails to do so.

A bail bondsman will impose a fee for posting the bond, usually 10 percent of the total bail amount. That fee is non-refundable and is the cost the bondsman charges for assuming the risk of posting a surety bond for the defendant's release.

Arraignment or Initial Appearance

At the initial appearance or arraignment, the defendant is asked to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges in court.

In most courts a public defender will be present when defendants have their arraignment/initial appearance and will talk to you before you plead. If there is an attorney present at your arraignment that attorney may or may not be the attorney who represents you for the rest of your case. t

There may be times when a public defender is not present. If you want a public defender but one is not in the courtroom during your arraignment/initial appearance, you should tell the judge you would like to plead not guilty, request appointment of a public defender, and ask the court to set your case for a jury trial.

Omnibus Hearing

An omnibus hearing or scheduling conference is a hearing the court sets to make sure the case is proceeding smoothly through the system. Courts handle their omnibus hearings in various ways. Some require clients to be present at the hearings. If you are ordered to appear at the hearing you must do so. If you do not appear the Court could issue a warrant for your arrest or you could forfeit your right to a jury trial. Omnibus hearings are also times for attorneys to file motions, advise the court of witnesses, set a trial date, and deal with other scheduling issues related to the case.

I Missed My Court Date

If you missed your court date, contact your attorney immediately, since it is likely the judge issued a warrant for your arrest, called a bench warrant. Often your attorney can make arrangements with the Court for you to appear on the bench warrant. If you voluntarily appear before the Court on the bench warrant you may still be placed in jail. However, the chances are much better that the judge will let you remain free if you appear before the Court on your own, rather than if you appear after being arrested on the bench warrant. Your lawyer can advise you about what to expect in court and documents you might bring to court to explain your absence.

Other Questions?

Contact your attorney or your local OPD office for information specific to your case.

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