When do you get a public defender? Getting arrested for a crime in Arizona, and generally everywhere else, is only the beginning of what is often a difficult, long, and expensive process of going to court, awaiting your verdict, and then paying the price that the courts will dole out for you.
A crucial part of this is hiring the right attorney to represent you. An attorney is necessary if you've been charged with a crime. But unfortunately they are often costly.
What do you do if you just don't have the means to afford a private attorney? This is where public defenders come in.
Public defenders are attorneys who are employed by the state or local government to serve as representatives for the public. Their primary role is to provide legal assistance to indigent clients.
The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright (which marked its 50th anniversary this year) ensures you the right to have an attorney, even if you can't afford one.
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that you can ask for a court-appointed attorney -- a public defender -- at any stage of your case, after you've been charged. Usually, the court will request proof of your financial status through various documents. Other times, they may not (i.e., with those who are homeless).
Once your status checks out, it generally takes at least a week for your case to be assigned and to get your public defender a copy of your file.
Keep in mind, public defenders usually take on a lot of cases, given the fact that there are so many in need of free representation. You will likely meet your attorney at your preliminary hearing, and at all other subsequent court dates. Your public defender will also be in touch whenever appropriate and communicate with you directly during all critical stages of your proceedings.
There are certain limitations, however. By statute in Arizona, public defenders are only available for criminal cases, and not appointed for any civil ones. Depending on what county you're in, the type of case the public defender takes on may be limited as well. For example, The Tuscon City Public Defender's Office doesn't handle child support or landlord/tenant disputes, among others.
- Are You Entitled to a Court-Appointed Attorney? (FindLaw)
- How to Obtain a Court-Appointed Defense Lawyer (FindLaw)
- Celebrating 50 Years of Gideon and the Right to Counsel (FindLaw's Phoenix Criminal Law News)
- Browse Phoenix Criminal Defense Lawyers and Law Firms (FindLaw)