Philadelphia Criminal Law News

4 Things to Know About Getting a Public Defender in Pennsylvania

After one gets arrested, there are many crucial steps to take. But, among those, hiring the right attorney is definitely at the top of that list.

If you find that you can't afford an attorney, there's always the option of applying for a court-appointed public defender.

With that said, here are 4 things to know about the process of getting a public defender in Pennsylvania:

  1. Almost all counties are required to have public defender offices. Under the Public Defender Act, all counties in Pennsylvania, with the exception of Philadelphia,are required to create and provide for a public defender's system in each respective county. Philadelphia has their own public defender system, an independent non-profit organization that provides attorneys for indigent defendants.
  2. You are guaranteed an attorney, sort of. If you need a public defender, that is. For those who can't afford an attorney. the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright (which marked its 50th anniversary earlier this year) ensures one the right to have an attorney, even if he can't afford one. The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution also provides that you can request a court-appointed attorney -- e.g. a public defender -- at any stage of your case, after you've been charged with a crime.
  3. Your case may not qualify. Public defenders don't handle every type of case under the sun. So, unless your case is one that requires adult criminal defense, it may not qualify.
  4. You may not qualify. Public defenders are only appointed to those who can't afford one. Usually, the court will request proof of your financial status through various documents, but they may not for those who are homeless. Applying for a public defender is on a case-by-case basis and will depend on a number of things, such as your income, or the type of case (e.g. hiring an attorney for murder vs. petty theft)

If you find that you aren't eligible for a public defender, remember that you may still need an attorney. There are many local, experienced attorneys in your area willing to give a free consultation on your case and to discuss flexible payment options.

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