In the United States, every citizen is granted the right to due process, meaning fair treatment throughout judicial proceedings. The understanding of this entitlement also includes representation. Therefore, despite financial ability, everyone who is arrested is allowed or provided an attorney. However, the selection of attorneys goes beyond public defenders.
Public Defenders or Court Appointed Attorneys
While everyone has a right to legal representation, most jurisdictions require defendants to qualify before being appointed an attorney, meaning that they must prove financial hardship. While that may seem harsh, public defenders have large caseloads and cannot be pulled away from truly deserving clients for people who can afford to pay for representation.
While stereotypically represented as overworked and underpaid individuals that barely know or understand their clients or cases, court-appointed attorneys, as with any lawyers, are legally obligated to defend their clients’ interest to the best of their ability or risk losing their license. No attorney can intentionally provide less than optimal service for their clients. Therefore, while it is true that public defenders have large caseloads, do not doubt that they are committed to achieving the best outcome for their client.
Additionally, as public defenders do have significant caseloads, it is not uncommon for you to be represented by different attorneys throughout the different phases of your trial, which is referred to as horizontal representation. While this may seem disheartening to the client, this is actually an efficient use of time and an excellent way to handle a trial. Essentially, less experienced attorneys handle the early more structured phases of a case, like an arraignment, and more experienced or senior-level attorneys handle the trial, or litigation, phase.
For individuals who do not qualify for a court-appointed lawyer, you still have the option of reaching out to legal aid firms. These firms differ from legal clinics and should not be confused.
- Legal clinics – While also for the underprivileged, legal clinics do not typically handle criminal cases. These firms are small and are funded by the Legal Services Corporation.
- Legal aid – Legal aid law firms are funded by government grants, private donations or the LSC. These firms are, again, designed for those who cannot afford counsel. However, their qualifications may not be as strict as the courts for public defenders.
Pro Bono Attorneys
You can also seek out a lawyer who will work pro bono, or free of charge. Some bar associations require attorneys donate time annually. If you do not qualify or are unhappy with your available legal representation, you can research the pro bono option.
As a U.S. citizen, you have a right to legal representation. If you were arrested or require legal assistance, then reach out to a local attorney and discuss your options.