Do I Qualify for a Court-Appointed Lawyer?

If you have been charged with a criminal offense and you lack the financial means to hire legal representation, you may be entitled to a court-appointed attorney or otherwise known as a public defender. The right to an attorney in criminal proceedings is enshrined within the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, it was not until the 1963 Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright that the law established the right to free legal representation for criminal defendants who are unable to afford a lawyer and face the possibility of incarceration and other consequences after a criminal conviction.

Defendants who meet the criteria are assigned either full-time public defenders or lawyers appointed by the court and paid by the hour. In either case, these attorneys typically handle an enormous caseload and have limited resources for each client.

There are several criteria’s for a defendant to qualify for a Court-Appointed Attorney. The justices in Gideon unanimously held that “in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” However, the Court later clarified this ruling, making it apply to cases where the defendant is charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor which could result in imprisonment from a conviction. This rule also applies to juvenile delinquency proceedings.

There are some limited exceptions to the rule, which includes:  defendants who are mentally ill or developmentally disabled; children; and in some cases involving child custody or child protection.

To determine whether you qualify based on income level, you may have to gather financial documents and prove to the judge that you lack the funds for a private lawyer. However, some courts may take you at your word (for example, homeless individuals lacking such documentation). Counties may determine eligibility for a public defender in a number of different ways, but your ability to afford a lawyer typically is based on your income and expenses. Some judges may ask you to get estimates from as many as three private attorneys before approving the assignment of a public defender.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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