Inevitably, in every crime show, you will hear an officer perform an arrest and inform the accused that they have the right to an attorney, and if one cannot be afforded the state will appoint one. This is derived from the fact that both the Minnesota Constitution and United States Constitution guarantee that every indigent person has the right to a public defender when they are facing criminal charges. The question remains, however, what does not being able to afford a private lawyer mean?
Every state in the nation has enacted legislation to determine the threshold in which an accused must be provided a public defender. In Minnesota, “persons who are financially unable to obtain counsel are entitled to be represented by a public defender” if they are charged with a “felony, gross misdemeanor, or misdemeanor.” Minn. Stat. § 611.14. Financial inability is defined as:
Minn. Stat. § 611.17. Ultimately, this means that it is in the hands of the judge to determine whether an accused is eligible to receive a public defender. In most cases, the judiciary is quite lenient, because it is well recognized that the right to the assistance of counsel is one of the fundamental pillars of the American Justice System. However, there are instances in which an accused may find themselves unable to qualify for a public defender, but unable to afford a private attorney. So, what should they do?
There is not always a simple answer to this question. The accused may currently be in custody, so it is left to close family members to sort out the pieces. The first step that should always be taken is to petition the Court to reconsider your eligibility. The burden of proof is on the accused to prove that they are “financially unable” to afford private counsel. Explaining their situation to the judge may be enough to turn the decision in their favor. Alternatively, the Courts may have a list of low-cost legal services within the area. This will at least be a good starting point for finding legal counsel that is affordable and able to being the process of providing legal representation. The next course of action is to call around local law firms. Many defense firms will provide a free consultation. Through this meeting, family members or the accused will be able to get a feel for the attorneys and determine who they believe will best represent their needs. Additionally, firms such as BK Law Group, may be able to set up a payment plan to ensure that your legal needs are adequately represented, without the stress of having to pay an exorbitant amount of money upfront.
Having legal representation through a criminal proceeding is vital. Although you have the right to represent yourself, often times this will serve as a large disadvantage because you will be faced against an experienced prosecutor who is both familiar with the legal process, and the people. If you have been charged with a crime and need legal counsel, or you have further questions about the interplay between public defenders and private counsel, call our office today.