Securing a Court-Appointed Attorney
Having a competent defense shouldn’t be something that only the wealthy can afford, and the legal system agrees. In fact, when you are arrested, you should be made aware of that right in the Miranda warning: “…You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed.” Although, how do you obtain the attorney that was promised, and are they competent and willing to defend you?
Myth Versus Reality
Court-appointed attorneys or public defenders often get a bad reputation from regurgitated rumors, speculation and stereotypes. Yes, it is true that these attorneys have tremendous caseloads. It is also true that the attorney that represents you initially in your arraignment hearing might not be the same attorney fighting for you during your trial. However, neither of these truths speaks to the effectiveness of court-appointed attorneys. Did you know that most public defenders have more courtroom and trial experience than private criminal defense attorneys who charge hundreds of dollars an hour? Also, because of the amount of time and experience they have, they typically have longstanding professional relationships with prosecutors and judges, which allows them to negotiate from a place of familiarity on your behalf. The stereotype of court-appointed attorneys as overworked goons who do not care about their clients is egregiously false. Most of these lawyers work tirelessly for and are fully committed to their clients.
Requesting an Attorney
Requesting a public defender is actually a straightforward process. When you appear before a judge for your arraignment, they will ask if you have legal representation, and if not, whether you wish to have representation. If you answer that you would like a lawyer, then the judge will probably begin asking you about your finances to determine your eligibility. Unfortunately, the rules about who qualifies for a court-appointed attorney vary by jurisdiction. However, if you are looking at a potentially lengthy criminal case and not a misdemeanor, then it is possible to qualify for a court-appointed attorney even when making a decent wage.
If you make too much to qualify for a free public defender but not enough for a private attorney, then a judge might allow for partial indigency. When this happens, it means the court is making you eligible for a court-appointed attorney, but you will have to reimburse the court for some of the costs.
Everyone deserves legal representation, but not everyone can afford it. Court-appointed lawyers are made available for every qualifying defendant. Although, if you are still unsure about the quality of representation you’ll receive, then you can consult with a private criminal defense attorney to discuss other options.