Answers to Questions About Court-Appointed Attorneys

If you are faced with criminal charges, it can be a time of great uncertainty and anxiety. You may be particularly concerned about finding an attorney to represent you. The Sixth Amendment grants the right to a criminal defense attorney appointed at the government’s expense to those who cannot afford to hire one otherwise.

You may have questions about how to retain a court-appointed attorney and whether your case qualifies. This article attempts to answer some of the most pressing of your concerns.

Under What Circumstances Can You Request a Court-Appointed Attorney?

Generally speaking, any time you are facing criminal charges with the possibility of imprisonment if convicted, you can request that the court appoint an attorney to represent you. It does not matter whether the charges against you are felonies or misdemeanors. The Supreme Court decision in the matter of Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963 established that unless the government provides defense counsel for those unable to hire an attorney otherwise, there is no assurance of a fair trial.

It should be noted if you also face civil charges related to the same offense, e.g., a wrongful death lawsuit, you are not entitled to court-appointed legal counsel for that case because the penalties do not include jail time. However, there may be other options by which you can obtain counsel for a civil defense for free or at a reduced cost.

How Do You Request a Court-Appointed Attorney?

When you appear in court for the first time, usually at arraignment, you should make a request to the judge in your case that the court appoint you an attorney due to your financial situation. Often, the judge will ask you, first, if you are represented by a lawyer, and if not, whether you want an attorney appointed to you.

How Does Your Financial Situation Relate to the Court Appointment?

The judge is unlikely to take you at your word when you say that you cannot afford to hire an attorney. You will probably have to produce financial documents making your situation clear to the court. It may be a good idea to bring such documents with you to your arraignment, or the court can inform you exactly what it needs.

It may be that you qualify for partial indigency. This means that you cannot afford the full price of an attorney but you do not qualify for free legal counsel. In this situation, you may pay only what you can afford, or you may have to reimburse state or county governments for a portion of the legal fees that they paid on your behalf.

Our attorneys can answer other questions you have regarding your criminal charges. Contact an attorney for more information.