What Happens if You Are Charged With a Crime and Cannot Afford a Private Lawyer?

Facing criminal charges is often a frightening and stressful experience. In addition to concerns about potential jail time, fines, and other consequences of a conviction, you may be worried about how you will pay for your defense. For most people, defending themselves against criminal charges is not a good option because they are unfamiliar with the law or court procedure. An experienced defense lawyer’s skills are often vital to your case’s success.

Fortunately, all courts are mandated by the Criminal Justice Act to provide adequate representation for anyone who is financially unable to secure a defense attorney on their own. A knowledgeable Georgia criminal defense lawyer can outline your legal rights to representation and explain the three systems of defense lawyers you may encounter: assigned counsel, contract systems, and public defenders. If you have further questions about obtaining a defense attorney for a criminal case, don’t hesitate to contact Sessoms Law Group today for guidance: 678-853-7402.

Who is Considered an Indigent Defendant?

A defendant is considered “indigent” if they are facing a criminal charge and are unable to pay for a lawyer based on the state’s income thresholds. Every state maintains different standards for income requirements.

To learn whether you qualify, you can inform the judge in your case that you wish to seek a court-appointed defense lawyer and fill out an application. The application will ask questions about your income, assets, expenses, and court case, and you will be asked to provide documents to verify your answers. Georgia charges a $50 application fee, but the court may waive this fee if it would cause you financial hardship. The court will examine your application to determine whether you are eligible for government-funded representation.

What Are the Three Systems of Defense Lawyers?

Court-appointed lawyers fall into one of three categories. The type of defense attorney assigned to your case will depend on many factors, such as the jurisdiction of your arrest, the current caseload of the lawyers in that area, the specifics of the charges against you, and other circumstances. Some lawyers may provide their services as part of a non-profit community defender organization. Others receive payment from the state or local government based on the pay rates described by law.

Assigned Counsel

An assigned counsel is a private attorney appointed to defend clients who cannot afford to hire their own defense attorney. The judge may make the selection based on a rotation of eligible attorneys, or the jurisdiction may have an independent official who handles the appointment of assigned counsel. Assigned counsel is most common in mid to small-sized counties that do not have a public defender’s office. This system may also be utilized in larger areas if the public defender’s office has reached maximum capacity for cases or the case would present a conflict of interest.

Contract Systems

Every jurisdiction must be capable of providing defense services to all indigent defendants. To this end, some states or municipalities may contract with private law firms or non-profit legal aid or defender organizations to handle a portion of their caseload.

When a firm or organization enters a contract, they agree to take a specified number of cases over a given period. These contracts can ensure that the jurisdiction has overflow capacity for cases and can provide adequate representation to every individual who needs it.

Public Defenders

Many states and local jurisdictions have created a public defender office to handle indigent defense cases. State public defender offices may also have regional or appellate agencies working on local cases.

These offices can include multiple lawyers, investigators, and paralegals with various areas of legal knowledge who work exclusively on criminal defense cases for individuals who cannot afford a private lawyer. Public defenders are very common in populous areas, where they handle the vast majority of indigent defense cases.

How Do the Three Systems of Indigent Defense Compare to Hiring a Private Lawyer?

It is your Sixth Amendment right to have access to a fair trial. As determined by the Supreme Court in the 1963 case Gideon vs. Wainwright, this Constitutional right includes having legal representation for the entirety of your legal proceedings, from initial appearances to appeals, if necessary. If your financial situation prohibits you from hiring a lawyer, the court must appoint one from one of the three systems of defense to represent you free of cost.

In terms of legal ability, every court-appointed lawyer is qualified to handle your defense. They are obligated to provide solid legal representation to every client, no matter the case. However, there can be some drawbacks to a court-appointed attorney. For example, you cannot choose your court-appointed lawyer. Most are assigned based on their availability, caseload, or position on a rotation. While there are limits on the number of cases each court-appointed attorney can take, many are consistently at or near capacity. Due to this factor, the lawyer and their staff may have less time to devote to each individual case. When hiring a private lawyer, you can choose your counsel based on their experience or other considerations.

How Can Our Law Firm Help if You’ve Been Accused of a Crime?

Even if you cannot pay for a lawyer out-of-pocket, you always have the Constitutional right to representation in a criminal case. Trying to fight charges on your own can lead to adverse outcomes and long-term legal and social consequences. If you meet the state’s financial eligibility requirements, a public defender, assigned counsel, or contract system lawyer can provide the legal guidance you need at no cost to you.

If you have been denied a court-appointed lawyer, have questions about whether you meet eligibility requirements, or would like to explore the feasibility and advantages of hiring a private lawyer, our helpful staff at Sessoms Law Group is here to assist you. Contact our law office today to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation: 678-853-7402.