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Below is a publication from a local public defenders office:
If you find that you are in trouble with the law and are being accused of a serious crime, you will need to be represented in a court of law. The problem is, many people who have committed crimes and are in this position lack the ability to afford someone to represent them. Those are the individuals who may be able to take advantage of a court appointed attorney, sometimes known as a public defender.
In the United States, the right to have an attorney is guaranteed in the sixth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. There was a legal case in 1963, however, where the Supreme Court ruled that it was now a right of the individual to have free legal representation when they are unable to afford a lawyer of their own. That was true, provided they were also facing the possibility of being incarcerated.
If the defendant is able to meet the qualifications, he will be assigned representation by the court. That representation will either come from a public defender who is working full-time in that role or a lawyer that would be otherwise assigned by the court and receives an hourly wage.
If you find yourself in the position where you need to use a court-appointed attorney, it is likely going to be the best option for you. The problem comes in when it comes to actually being defended successfully by one of these attorneys. If you were to pay a lawyer to have your case, they would take all of the resources necessary to make a good case. A public defender, on the other hand, is not only dealing with limited resources, they are dealing with limited time.
Sometimes, it may be a good choice for you to look for a low-cost attorney who would take the additional time to cover your case properly. It always helps to explore your options but if hiring an attorney is not an option, then you should see if you meet the criteria to receive an attorney appointed by the court system.
Navigating your way through the court system can be a very difficult thing to do. Most people are not able to do it for themselves and the courts tend to look down upon those who try to do so. Using a public defender in this case may just be the best choice available for you.