Lee & Lee PS Law Talk

Q: What am I to do if I cannot afford to hire my own attorney? A: In criminal cases, the court will appoint an attorney to represent you if you cannot afford your own lawyer.  You will first be screened to determine if you qualify for a court appointed attorney, otherwise known as a public defender.  Students, retirees living on a fixed income, people earning minimum wage and the unemployed usually qualify for a public defender.  Even those who appear to make a decent living can qualify as well.  To be sure about your eligibility, you should go through the screening process.  At your first appearance in court, you should request information for public defender screening.

Lee & Lee PS Law Talk (Nelson Lee and Bethany Mito)

Lee & Lee PS Law Talk
Q: What am I to do if I cannot afford to hire my own attorney?

A: In criminal cases, the court will appoint an attorney to represent you if you cannot afford your own lawyer.  You will first be screened to determine if you qualify for a court appointed attorney, otherwise known as a public defender.  Students, retirees living on a fixed income, people earning minimum wage and the unemployed usually qualify for a public defender.  Even those who appear to make a decent living can qualify as well.  To be sure about your eligibility, you should go through the screening process.  At your first appearance in court, you should request information for public defender screening.


Q: I have heard that public defenders are not good or competent lawyers, is this true?

A: Like any profession, there are both good and bad lawyers.  The misperception is that public defenders are “second class lawyers” who couldn’t get jobs in prestigious law firms and, overall, are not of high caliber.  This is false!  After 17 years as a prosecutor, I have encountered many highly qualified and skilled public defenders.  Most are dedicated to justice and to serving their clients zealously.  They work and fight hard for their clients.  Most public defenders I know choose this line of work because of their strong belief in providing a vigorous defense for those who cannot afford high-priced lawyers.  King County is and has been well served by the dedicated public defender agencies in the area.

Q: But what about the caseload of the public defenders – is it true that they sometimes have too many cases to handle?

A: Government and public agencies have been greatly impacted by the current economic slump.  Both prosecutors and public defenders have faced unprecedented layoffs.  Naturally, this results in rising caseloads for everybody.  Public defenders do have to manage a large caseload and this may impact their ability to spend the time they want or need to on each case.  But, most public defenders I know still find a way to work tirelessly on their clients’ cases.

Q: Do I get to pick my own public defender?

A: No!  The law says that the court must appoint a lawyer if you cannot afford one, but it doesn’t allow the defendant to pick and choose who he/she wants.  Occasionally, the court may allow a defendant to fire or replace his/her public defender, but only upon a showing that they are not communicating effectively, or that there is some other material problem in the client-lawyer relationship that negatively impacts the lawyer’s ability to represent his/her client.  Not liking your public defender is not a good enough reason for the court to appoint a different one.

Q: Is there another option if I cannot hire my own attorney?

A: Yes, but I would strongly advise against it.  The law allows you to represent yourself in criminal proceedings.  This is called appearing “pro se”.  A judge will not allow you to proceed pro se unless he/she is satisfied that you understand your rights, that you are choosing to give up some of your rights, and that you understand the risks and consequences of proceeding by yourself without the assistance of a lawyer.

Next topic: “What am I to do if I cannot afford to hire my own attorney? (1)”
A “Readers’ Mailbox” is set for answering any law related questions.
lawtalk@seattlechinesetimes.com


Lee & Lee PS Law Talk—Disclaimer—
This article is made available by Lee & Lee, PS and this publisher for educational purposes only.  The intent is to give the reader general information and a general understanding of the law. The article does not provide specific legal advice.  Readers of this article should understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the writers or their publisher.  Furthermore, the article is not a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your jurisdiction.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here