If You're not Considered poor, You may be on your own Following Arrest
(but it's probably for the better)
City and local government are often grappling with ways to solve funding
problems. This can happen when total expenses exceed tax revenues. To
solve this problem, cities and states look for creative ways to cut spending
on welfare programs that don’t actually benefit the poor. Social
welfare, whether in the form of housing, food, temporary financial assistance,
or legal or medical help is something that is sometimes offered without
many questions being asked but accepting something for free can lead to
an embarrassing situation or worse if you aren't eligible.
In New York City, the legal aid society represents those who are deemed
too poor to hire a lawyer following arrest or desk appearance ticket.
The court generally makes this decision based on your assets, income,
and other financial information. On occasion, the court can ask you to
swear, under oath, to specifics regarding your financial circumstances
such as income and bank account details or ask for tax returns. According
to the State of New York, eligibility for a public defender such as legal
aid lawyer is based on assets and net income. If your net income was $29,700
(family of 1 in 2016) you are presumptively eligible for a public defender
subject to an analysis of your assets and other variables. The legal aid
society bases eligibility for some of its services on 125% of the federal
poverty which was about $12,000 in 2016. Even if you qualify for the public
defender, this is not mandatory and you may always hire your own lawyer.
You can read more about New York public defender eligibility here:
In New Jersey, the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender (NJOPD) doesn’t
decide whether you qualify for a public defender. Instead, the court makes
this decision based on information you submit about your financial circumstances
in a “5A Form” which details your income and debts. The New
Jersey public defender (NJOPD) doesn’t actually represent you for
free. Instead, they are required, by NJ state law, to collect a reasonable
fee from you. If you don’t pay, it can result in a judgment or a
lien which could damage your credit history and lead to other collection
In Los Angeles, the public defender can only represent those who can’t
afford an attorney. Defendants must complete a financial statement and
even if you qualify, you must pay a registration fee of $50. In some situations,
the judge will also examine your finances to see if you qualify. Eligibility
isn’t determined based on a specific income or amount of net assets
but is on a case by case basis. If bail is set and you can’t afford
to bail yourself out of jail, the court presumes that you can’t
afford a lawyer. Other factors include income, family size, and housing costs.
In Chicago, the public defender is appointed by a judge if, based on an
affidavit of assets and liabilities, you are deemed to be too poor to
hire a lawyer. Because an affidavit is involved, there is a risk of perjury
for any false statements made in order to trick the judge into appointing someone.
In England, the cost of legal aid spending on criminal defendants was reduced
by seizing property from criminal defendants. This seized property would
be auctioned and the proceeds would cover some or all of the government’s
spending on their criminal defense lawyers.
As local and state governments try to reduce spending and cope with a lack
of interest in raising taxes, cuts will be made to reduce spending that
is considered unwarranted or wasteful. A once liberal attitude to providing
free legal help is quickly deteriorating. Therein may lie a silver lining.
Whether or not you qualify for a public defender, you may be benefited
by a private attorney because by hiring a lawyer you can select someone
who is the right fit for your case and private attorneys often have more
experience and more time to devote to defending you in court.