Skip to Content
NYC Criminal Defense Attorney

Financial Realities Hurt Free Lawyers & Legal Aid Attorneys


Who's Paying Your Lawyer?

They say there's no such thing as a Evaluation lunch. This observation exposes the truth that everything costs something. What might be evaluation for you may have been paid for by others which raises questions about what that unknown other person bought for you. In New York, you become eligible for the public defender in a criminal case if you make less than $12,762 for single person or $17,112 for a family of two with no other significant assets (stocks, bonds, property). For people in this situation who don't hire an attorney, they would be represented by legal aid which is the most common public defender in New York City.

Most of the country's public defenders rely on taxpayers to cover the cost of hiring and training attorneys. Because asking a taxpayer to pay for someone else's criminal defense isn't popular during campaign season, politicians are under intense pressure to cut funds to the public defender or avoid giving the public defender adequate funds. The New York Times recently reported that when criminal defendants in New Mexico go to court and say they can't afford a lawyer, the State says that neither can they. Criminal defendants are then forced to defend themselves in court often resulting in lopsided outcomes. In New Mexico, according to the Times, this is partially because of falling tax revenue caused by the declined in the oil industry. The top public defender in Hobbs City felt so stressed-out about the situation that he told his public defenders representing 200 defendants each to stop taking any new cases. Some interesting highlights from these overburdened public lawyers were discussed such as that a typical public defender:

  • was handling 200 criminal defendants or more at a time
  • only has a few minutes with his or her client before being forced to negotiate critical decisions such as a plea deal or jail sentences
  • was unable to adequately prepare for hearings or evaluate the evidence against their clients
  • was unable to draft and file critical motions needed to protect their clients

It's worse in New York. Here, you are often sharing a legal aid lawyer with 400 other criminal defendants, almost twice the New Mexico rate which is causing this catastrophe (in 2014 legal aid attorneys were supposed to transition from caseloads of 600 to 400, still well above what can be properly handled by one lawyer working 9 to 5, Monday through Friday with time off for holidays, vacations, and sick time).

Many cities, apparently, have money to spend on the police and district attorney (the prosecutor) but nothing left over for public defenders. This means that there's plenty of police to make arrests which are then transferred to a system of few public defenders who are sometimes so overworked that they can't remember their client's names. This makes sense if you think about it from a politician's point of view. Which is easier to convince taxpayers to pay for, more police officers or more Evaluation lawyers for the people who are arrested? It's certainly not the right outcome, though.

Unfortunately for people heading to criminal court alone, they may receive a record or jail time that, if they were able to afford a lawyer, could have been avoided.