I Can’t Afford a Lawyer

I got arrested and I can’t afford a lawyer. I went to the Public Defender’s office and they turned me down. I went to get a court appointed lawyer and they turned me down. I have no idea what I am doing and if I show up to court without a lawyer, I am worried I will either get screwed or I will get put in jail for not having a lawyer. Help!

My office has a disagreement on this point in several regards, but I will try to explain the two main areas of disagreement from my perspective.

First, there is a objective standard applied to whether you can afford a lawyer. Whether you can afford a lawyer is not an opinion. There is a formula that is used to determine whether you are allowed to have a free lawyer and one of those factors is income. If you are turned down for a free lawyer, you must make a sacrifice in your life and go and get a lawyer or represent yourself. While that is hard to swallow, it is the truth.

One of the other lawyers in my office believes that if you think you really can’t afford a lawyer in your subjective opinion, you should go to court and try to convince the judge to appoint you the public defender. While I agree that this may work in some counties before some judges, this is not every judge everywhere and I would not feel comfortable going to court like that if I were you. If you make too much money to qualify for the public defender, my question is how can you not afford to get a lawyer? A conviction could make you go to jail, lose your job, lose government benefits, and give you a criminal conviction, etc. If I were you, I would find a lawyer and not go into the courtroom without a lawyer.

The second issue is whether there is any middle ground in this issue, i.e. is there a discounted lawyer? In some counties in Pennsylvania, there are special programs where lawyers agree to give a discount to certain people in certain cases. In Philadelphia county there is a list called the $750 list. This list only covers preliminary hearings and municipal court trials–nothing else.

The issue with this list is whether clients feel they get the same quality representation from this list as they do from the normal fee. Obviously, at $750, its a bargain compared to the normal fee.

While we may all disagree on this issue at my office, we all agree that you should not represent yourself. Figure out a way to get a lawyer.

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