Misconceptions about public defenders

When someone gets arrested, most will often think about what comes next in terms of both detainment and the money involved. With most people who may be strapped on resources, it is often a held belief that they could choose to go with a public defender to keep costs down. This however is just one of a few myths that surround public defenders and government subsided representation. The truth of the matter some aspects of working with public defenders are pretty different then what you might assume. Here are a few things to debunk.

Myth #1 a public defender will just be assigned to you

Even though in the Miranda rights the officer will say “you have a right to an attorney, if you  cannot afford one, one will be provided for you.” This makes it seem pretty clear cut that if you don’t have the funds to hire a private lawyer that the courts would automatically appoint a lawyer for you but in actuality, you have to qualify for a public defender. That’s right, typically public defenders are only assigned to defendants within 25% of the poverty line. If you make over this amount even if you truly can’t afford a lawyer then you may have no choice but to defend yourself in court.

Myth #2 you are their only client

If you are lucky enough to get a public defender then many would assume that the defender that is assigned to you will only focus on your case until the trial concludes however that is unfortunately far from the case. Public defenders are often spread incredibly thin with a huge caseload. This means that there may not be a lot of one-on-one time with your lawyer or that research may not be as in-depth as that of a private attorney. Now this is not to say that public defenders do not care, they, of course, want to represent all their cases to the best of their ability but the fact of the matter is that there is just not enough hours in the day for them to get everything as thorough as they would like.

Myth #3 Public Defenders are always free

The final myth that is often associated with public defenders is that they are always fully paid for by the government however in 43 states, this is not always the case. In fact, sometimes it can be the factor that makes people with no resources have to defend themselves because they can’t even afford the nominal fees of a  public defender. While this is not always the case, for many it can be an unpleasant surprise to find this out but it also important to note that discussing the burden with the courts may offer some alternatives so that you would not need to go into debt.

Overall, public defenders are there to help defendants who may struggle with representation otherwise. And while they do help many, it is also important to temper expectations so that you have the knowledge to choose the best way forward for you.

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