How Do I Get a Public Defender?

How Do I Get a Public Defender?

Getting a Public Defender

In most situations, when a person has been accused of a crime and cannot afford to hire a lawyer to represent them at court appearances, the accused can ask for a public defender to be assigned to them. A public defender is an attorney who is employed by the state to represent indigent criminal defendants for free. Some states have similar laws that govern public defenders but each state has laws specific to that state. If you are looking for legal advice, it is important that you get it from a lawyer who is licensed to give it in the state where your legal issue takes place.

The following are simplified versions to some of the steps you might take to get a public defender:

Ask At Arraignment

When someone is arrested, they are typically given a notice to appear in court, or they may be held in a local jail until their arraignment. An arraignment is when someone is called or brought before a court to answer a criminal charge. It is during their arraignment that most people are given a chance to ask for a public defender.

Depending on the state or county, a person asking for a public defender may be required to bring proof of their financial situation to show their inability to pay for a private attorney. In general though, especially if a person is being held in jail until their arraignment, simply requesting a public defender moves the defendant on to the next step in the process. 

Interview with the Public Defender’s Office

Many larger cities and more populated counties have their own public defender’s offices that employ full-time government lawyers who work exclusively for the government to represent indigent criminal defendants for free. 

Eligibility for a public defender is determined on a case-by-case basis, usually based on the following:

– Available income

– Severity of the charges

– Availability of family and other support networks

The lower one’s available assets are and/or the more severe of a crime a person is accused of, makes it more likely you will be approved and assigned a public defender.

Conflicts of Interest

Once a defendant has been approved for free legal representation, then the public defender’s office will typically conduct an intake interview about you and your case in order to assign you to a specific attorney. During this interview, it is important to establish that representing you would not present a conflict of interest.

Once it has been established that there will be no conflict of interest in representing a defendant, the defendant will officially be assigned that public defender, or in some cases, a specially designated “conflicts counsel” who also represents criminal defendants for free.

When a criminal defendant does not qualify to be represented by a public defender, they can either try to find a private lawyer that they can afford or they can choose to represent themselves.

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