Informational Website

Appointed Public Defender

Thanks to the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, you have the right to receive representation by counsel even if you cannot afford to hire an attorney. But how does this system work? Prior to 1964, the federal government relied on the professional obligation of attorneys to provide counsel free of charge for defendants who were charged with a serious crime but could not afford a lawyer. Then the Criminal Justice Act changed everything by establishing a system for appointing and compensating attorneys to represent defendants who could not afford counsel. Since it was first established, the CJA began to authorize districts to establish federal defender organizations. Today, there are two types of federal defender organizations: federal defender organizations and community defender organizations.

The Difference Between Federal Defender Organizations and Community Defender Organizations

Federal defender organizations are staffed by federal employees. Congress has placed a four-year term for the chief federal public defender. This appointment authority is placed in the court of appeals to help insulate the chief federal public defender from the involvement of court before which the defender typically practices.

Unlike federal defender organizations, community defender organizations are not federal entities. They are supervised by a board of directors and are non-profit defense counsel organizations incorporated under state laws. Community defender organizations provide counsel to the poor in state, municipal and county courts.

I’m Not Sure If I Can Afford a Private Attorney. What Do I Need to Do?

Before you can be appointed a public defender, you will need to provide the court with information about your income (a pay stub may be required), assets and debt. If after reviewing the information the judge determines you cannot afford to hire a private attorney, one will be appointed to you. It’s always wise to seek a free consultation from a private attorney. You may discover that you can afford an attorney as many offer credit programs and affordable monthly payment options.

As with anything, there are pros and cons to having a public defender, so be sure to seek a second opinion. After all, your rights and liberty must be protected.