Though what we see in law shows and movies may portray differently, a lot of the arrest process and the court thereafter is not quite as clear-cut as one would imagine. One particular sport where this is especially true is with public defenders. We often think that if you don’t have the money to hire a lawyer that you would just get one paid for by the courts and they would be completely focused on you until the trial is done but it, unfortunately, is not quite that easy. Here is a quick overview of some things you may not know in regards to how public defenders work.
You have to apply and qualify to use a public defender
This can be confusing because even when you are arrested and the police officer recites you the Miranda rights, they say “you have a right to an attorney, if you cannot afford one, one will be provided for you.” From this, you would gather that if you could not hire a private attorney that the courts will give you one but in actuality you need to apply and then financially qualify for the services of a public defender. Typically a defendant needs to be around 25% above the poverty line at most to actually qualify and if you don’t then you may be left with no but choice to defend yourself in court.
Public defenders almost always have intense case loads
Now if you are granted a public defender, it would be understandable to think that since they have been appointed to you that you will be their sole case until the trial concludes but that is in reality far from the truth. There are only so many public defenders to go around so they tend to be stretched incredibly thin with massive caseloads. This does not mean that they won’t do their best to represent you well but it does mean that there will be little one-on-one time as well as very little time to really research the case before actually appearing in court.
Sometimes using public defenders is not completely free
The last and possibly most surprising fact is despite what most people are led to believe, public defenders are not always free. In fact, In 43 states the courts can charge a sliding scale rate for using a public defender. For some this may only be $50 or even free with qualification but it can get expensive if the rates are not known at the time so it is important to be aware and ask beforehand.
In the end, public defenders are still accessible and there to help people with limited resources get representation but it is important to know that it isn’t quite as easy and straightforward as one is led to believe.