How to Obtain a Public Defender

Assigned Counsel Legal Services

The Pierce County Department of Assigned Counsel (DAC) provides legal assistance to indigent persons under the following circumstances:
  • In criminal matters which could result in incarceration (a jailable offense)
  • In dependency matters where a child has been removed from the home by the State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS)
  • In juvenile delinquency matters which could result in incarceration
The office also provides legal assistance to persons detained for involuntary civil commitment proceedings at Western State Hospital and other evaluation and treatment facilities.


The office does not handle civil law matters other than those noted above. Individuals needing legal assistance for civil matters must hire a private attorney. For assistance with this process, you may contact either the Tacoma / Pierce County Bar Association at (253) 383-3432 or Legal Aid at (253) 572-4343.

Determining If You Qualify

If you or your dependent have been charged with a crime involving possible incarceration or your child was removed from your home by DSHS, you and/or your juvenile dependent may be eligible for DAC legal services.

By law, the Department of Assigned Counsel can only provide legal services to individuals who have been determined as indigent or at poverty level. At arraignment, if you have been court ordered to apply for public defense, you will have three days to pursue this screening.

How Indigency is Determined

The determination of indigency (based upon RCW 10.101 and as interpreted by the court and Pierce County) is made based upon several variables. These variables may include income, public assistance, expenses, assets, as well as other criteria.

If You Have Been Ordered to Apply for Representation

If you have been court ordered to apply for legal representation by the Department of Assigned Counsel, application can be made through the Pierce County Clerk's Office who is responsible for screening both in and out of custody defendants for indigency.

What You Need to Apply

You must apply in person to the Pierce County Clerk at 930 Tacoma Avenue South, Room 108, (253) 798-3781, within three days after the arraignment or shelter care hearing. The hours to apply are Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. only.

You must also bring the following information:
  • Any paperwork received from the court, which should have a case number and the next court date
  • Proof of all public assistance that you receive (current) - Award letter, check stub, medical coupon (for GAU only)
    • Note: Food stamp card is not sufficient proof of public assistance
  • Support, day care, etc., handwritten support statement if living with someone and not contributing to the basic household expenses
  • Verification of your income (last 30 days), unemployment compensation or retirement / disabled pay (if there are two parents in the home or responsible for the juvenile, both incomes will be considered in determining indigency status)
  • Proof of any other unusual expenses paid in the past 30 days (medical / dental payments, collection debts, institutional loans, etc.
  • Proof of your basic living expenses (receipts or copies of)
    • Examples: Rent or mortgage payments (equity denial letter from bank if buying a house), utilities, phone, car payments, car insurance, child care / needs
  • If self-employed - Bring in your tax statements, business ledger, reported sales tax, bank statements (last 60 days), and your business license