The Right to Representation
Criminal defendants in the U.S. have a right to counsel. This means they have a right to attorney representation when facing criminal charges. Public defenders can also be appointed in juvenile cases as well as some family law matters. The right to representation is a valuable one. Our legal system is difficult to understand and isn't always intuitive. An attorney is almost always needed to successfully navigate any kind of case.
Unfortunately, some people do not have the resources to hire a private attorney. Those who lack the resources may ask the court to appoint a public defender. A public defender is an attorney who can advise you and provide basic defense efforts in your case. Public defenders are free of cost, but only defendants who are declared indigent (i.e. cannot afford basic necessities) are eligible to be appointed one.
Typically, you can ask the court for a public defender at your arraignment, which is the first court appearance for your case. To be appointed a public defender, you must provide information about your income to the court. Usually, this requires that you provide a financial statement. The judge may decide whether or not to appoint you a public defender based on your finances, but, in most cases, the public defender's officer will be making that determination. You will need information about your income and your household income. If you are appointed a public defender, you will be asked to pay a registration fee, but you will still get help even if you cannot afford to pay it.
If approved, you may be able to consult with a public defender in the courtroom at your arraignment. In simple cases, you may be able to consult with your public defender before you appear in front of the judge. But, in many cases, your hearing will be continued so you will have time to meet with the public defender to discuss your case in detail. This is highly advisable. Public defenders have notoriously large caseloads and often need time to thoroughly review a case before they can provide legal advice.
Public defenders are licensed attorneys but are limited in the resources they can devote to any given case. This means that while they have the authority to represent you and provide legal advice, you may still be better served hiring a private attorney to handle your case. You may find it difficult to contact your public defender or may have to appear in their office to get any personal guidance. Sometimes cases with a public defender take longer than cases handled by private defense attorneys because public defenders lack the time to closely follow a case and may not have the time to gather information, speak with the defendant, and plan a defense in a timely manner. Public defenders can continue your hearings to give you more time to work together on your case, but this may not be in your best interests. Sometimes hiring an attorney can result in a quicker case process and a faster resolution. In most cases, this is preferable so the defendant can move on with his or her life.
Whether or not you need a private attorney or a public defender depends on the specifics of your case and your needs. A good way to figure out what your needs are is to consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney. If your case is very simple, you may not need an attorney to represent you. If your case is complex for whatever reason, however, you should seriously consider hiring a private attorney so you can make sure you are getting the best representation possible. Also, even if you choose to not hire an attorney, even a quick consultation can give you some information that can help you make the best decisions in your case.
Are you in the Visalia or Tulare area and facing criminal charges? At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we are experienced in criminal defense and can tenaciously fight for your rights in court. Criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens has successfully represented clients in criminal trials in Fresno, Tulare, and Kings Counties for over ten years and will not be afraid to take your case all the way to trial. Contact our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss your case.