Most people are familiar with “public defenders,” after all, we hear about them on television and in the movies all of the time. While most people are familiar with public defenders, there’s a lot of confusion about who is entitled to them. Just because someone is facing criminal charges, it does not mean that they are entitled to a public defender.
Public defenders are regular attorneys; they are licensed to practice law in California and they are members of the State Bar, just like private criminal defense lawyers. In order for an attorney to become a public defender, they must have passed the State Bar examination.
Candidates must be interviewed and pass an oral examination that demonstrates their knowledge, intellectual ability, and commitment to defending the criminally accused. In fact, some of California’s public defenders graduated from the nation’s finest law schools and they go on to start their careers working in the trenches at the Public Defender’s Office.
The Public Defender’s Office does not represent every person who is facing criminal charges; it only represents defendants who cannot afford to pay for a private criminal defense lawyer. If you’re facing criminal charges and you have a nice 401k and a good job, you’re probably not eligible for free legal services.
When the defendant attends their arraignment, whether or not they are in custody, they are often required to fill out a financial statement, which determines whether or not the defendant can afford a private attorney.
Sometimes Judges Examine a Defendant’s Finances
In some criminal courts, the judge examines the defendant’s personal finances and decides if he or she can afford a private defense lawyer. In other courts, the public defender decides whether or not the defendant can afford a private attorney.
So, will you qualify for a public defender? It all depends on your personal situation. Sometimes people who are eligible, wind up paying for the public defender after all is said and done. How so?
In some cases, when a defendant is represented by a public defender, the judge may want to conduct a hearing when the case is over to determine if the defendant has the financial ability to pay a portion of, or all of their legal fees for the public defender’s services.
If the judge finds it appropriate, he or she can order a defendant to pay for the cost of the public defender, or the defendant may not have to pay anything. If the judge determines that a defendant does have the financial ability to pay for some or all of the costs of the public defender, they may be order the defendant to pay something based on their financial situation.