What Happens If You Can’t Afford A Criminal Defense Attorney?

Whether or not you’re guilty of doing anything wrong, the criminal justice system is not kind to those accused of committing a crime–no matter how minor. It’s also not about whether or not whatever you may have done was “right” or “wrong”. Instead, it’s about the difference between legal and illegal. If you violated society’s code of ethics, it doesn’t matter why. It also doesn’t matter if you can afford a proper legal defense. What happens if you can’t afford a criminal defense attorney?

Well, it can be complicated. When you’re first brought into court or arraigned on charges, you’ll likely be asked if you can afford counsel. If you don’t believe you can, you’ll fill out a form to help the court determine whether or not you’re indigent enough to afford a lawyer. You’ll write down a list of expenses, from rent to credit card debt. Be honest, and don’t miss anything.

Keep in mind, your definition of what you can reasonably afford and what the court believes is affordable may differ greatly. You’ll have to manage either way.

If the court decides you can afford a criminal defense attorney, then you’re on your own. This can be an even greater pain if your financial situation changes because of your charges. For example, if you need to find a new place to live, things can go from bad to worse very quickly.

If you fall below a certain threshold and are declared indigent, then the court must give you a helping hand. If the potential penalties for a conviction of the crime you’re charged with committing could lead to jail time, then you may be provided with free counsel. Alternatively, you might qualify for partial indigency in some states. You would pay partial costs if this applies for you. In Florida, the court does make the final determination as to your financial status, but you can attempt to bounce an application back for additional review if you disagree.

If you aren’t determined to be indigent but don’t believe you can afford a qualified criminal defense attorney, then go find one anyway. They offer free consults, and you can have a chat about your financial status. You may be able to come to a reasonable arrangement based on your individual situation.