Generally speaking if you are in Court and are given the opportunity to apply for a Court appointed attorney you should apply for one. Waiving your right to a Court appointed attorney means you will either represent yourself or hire your own attorney. Unless you plan to represent yourself anyway, do not waive your right to an appointed lawyer. Even if you plan to hire your own lawyer, you may discover you cannot afford an attorney, or may lose your job before you retain an attorney. You can always fire your Court appointed lawyer to hire your own lawyer. You usually will not be given another opportunity to request a court appointed lawyer after finding out you can’t afford private counsel.
How much does a court appointed lawyer cost?
Court appointed lawyers cost nothing upfront. If you are found guilty or found in contempt you will have to repay the state of North Carolina for the services of the appointed attorney. In NC those fees generally range from $55-$75 per hour. If the case is dismissed or you are found not guilty you are not responsible for any attorney fees to the state. If you do not pay the court appointed fees a civil judgment can be docketed against you for the balance owed.
Who are court appointed lawyers?
Larger counties tend to have their own staff such as the Mecklenburg County Public Defender Office that is analogous to the Mecklenburg County District Attorney Office in that they represent people who cannot afford an attorney. When the public defender office is overworked or has a conflict there is a list of private attorneys who also take appointed clients. Other counties such as Union County do not have a Public Defender office, but only have a list of private attorneys who are on the Court appointed list. If you are in Union County you will be assigned at random 1 of the 25 or so attorneys who have chosen to be on the Court appointed list.
Why do people say not to ask for a Court appointed lawyer?
Public Defender’s often are often overworked and are less responsive than clients would like. This is especially true if the defendant is already in jail. Many public defenders’ have a heavy caseload that prevents them from dedicating as much time to each client as a private attorney. As in any profession, there are some who exceed expectations and some who fall short. The same is true of lawyers, both public and private. Also, since you don’t get to choose your appointed lawyer, there is a greater chance you will be assigned an attorney you do not like than if you choose your own. Finally, as stated above you can always fire your court appointed counsel and hire your own.
How to get a court appointed lawyer in NC
In North Carolina you can usually request a court appointed lawyer the first time you see a judge in criminal court or at your initial bond hearing. The judge will likely have you fill out a financial affidavit disclosing your income and assets and determine whether you can afford your own attorney based on the offense and your potential ability to hire your own counsel.
Can I get a court appointed lawyer?
Everyone is entitled to a court appointed lawyer if you are facing jail time an unable to afford your own attorney. This includes essentially any felony and serious misdemeanors. If you have no criminal history and are charged with a level 3 or level 2 misdemeanor such as simple possession of marijuana or trespassing you may not be eligible for a court appointed lawyer, but of course you can always hire your own attorney. Other instances where you may be entitled to a court appointed lawyer in NC include a motion for contempt or termination of your parental rights.
Pros vs Cons of Public Defenders