One of your most fundamental rights as an American citizen is the right to be represented by an attorney, like a criminal defense lawyer Fairfax VA trusts, if you are charged with a crime. For those who can’t afford to pay for a private lawyer, a judge may appoint a state-employed “public defender” to advocate for a defendant. These public defenders are paid for by the state and the defendants they represent do not have to pay anything.
However, there may be some drawbacks to working with a public defender when you have the option to hire a private criminal defense attorney. Furthermore, some individuals might not qualify for a court-appointed public defender. While we encourage you to contact your local criminal defense attorney for more information, here’s a brief look at this highly-contested issue.
Why, How, and When a Public Defender Is Appointed
As promised by the U.S. Constitution, every American citizen has the right to be represented by a professional lawyer. When an American is charged with a crime and is unable to pay for a criminal defense lawyer, the state judge overseeing the case will appoint one. Should the state fail to appoint an attorney to represent someone who cannot afford one, the state cannot legally prosecute the defendant.
In order to receive a state-appointed public defender, the defendant must ask for a state-appointed attorney and must prove that he/she cannot reasonably afford to pay for a private attorney. Individuals who are wealthy enough to cover the cost of hiring a private attorney might not qualify for a public defender. Individuals who do qualify still have the option of hiring a private attorney. Defendants may also have the right to represent themselves in some cases; however, this is typically only seen in minor criminal cases (such as cases for traffic tickets).
A judge can appoint a public defender to an individual’s case during the arraignment. An arraignment is the first time that the defendant appears in court, and he/she either pleads guilty or not guilty.
The Possible Downsides of Public Defenders
It is important to note that state-appointed public defenders undergo the same type of education and training that private criminal defense attorneys would undergo. The state is responsible for hiring public defenders who are capable of representing citizens thoroughly and adequately in court. However, financial constraints on state judicial systems in recent years has made this problematic. Many local defense attorneys find themselves overloaded with too many cases and not enough time or resources to provide adequate defenses. In some cases, defendants do not even meet their attorneys until a few minutes before their case appears in court. The quality of representation that defendants receive from public defenders is highly contingent on the resources of the local municipality or state — not on the education or experience of a specific public defender.
If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime, you can still speak with a private criminal defense attorney even if you qualify for a state-appointed public defender. Although you won’t receive representation for free, you might just receive the kind of representation that allows you to walk away free of all charges.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Dave Albo Attorney for their insights into criminal defense practice.