As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Office of Defense Services is urging all individuals accused of a crime or a delinquent act to contact the office as soon as possible.
To make it easier to do so, the office is offering extended hours until 8 p.m., Tuesdays, for people to reach out via telephone to obtain an attorney. Depending on demand, additional hours may be added.
“It is imperative that people facing criminal charges reach out to our office to get an attorney well before their first court date,” said Lisa Minutola, ODS chief of legal services. “People have a right to an attorney, but the longer someone waits to contact us, the more difficult it is to mount a defense. Evidence may be lost, and memories may fade over time.”
The office has remained open and operational during the COVID-19 pandemic but has limited in-person intake meetings to protect staff and clients alike, instead turning to telephone interviews. Now, with the court beginning to hear more cases, ODS is offering more ways to get in touch.
Interviews, which are the first step to obtaining a public defender, will be conducted by a bilingual intake investigator so they may be done in Spanish or English. This is available statewide for individuals with charges in any county. An interview must be set up in advance; to schedule an interview, call 302-752-3374.
The extended hours are in addition to several other steps the office has taken to increase accessibility to intake specialists.
When the judicial emergency first went into effect, the office worked with the courts to include information about its remote proceeding in every court notice.
Two months ago, ODS added an online form for potential clients to request representation. Since its implementation, more than 60 people have contacted the office. Potential clients can access and complete that form at ods.delaware.gov/request-for-representation/.
“People’s lives are busy, especially during a pandemic, and we’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to connect with our office,” Minutola said. “Criminal charges, let alone a conviction, can have life-altering impacts, and people should not have to go it alone.”