Your 3 Choices Regarding Representation in Your Criminal Case
When it comes to representation in a criminal case, there are three choices and three choices only: (1) you can represent yourself (generally a bad idea, though we’ll discuss it), (2) ask for a public defender (you must qualify, based on income), or (3) hire an attorney.
Options 1 and 3 are done by “waiver.” A waiver is your statement to the court that you do not want the court to appoint you an attorney. This means you are saying, “no, Judge, I don’t want you to assign me an attorney: I want to either represent myself, or I want to hire an attorney.”
Representing Yourself: Generally Not a Good Idea.
Generally speaking, representing yourself is a poor idea. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “penny wise and pound foolish.” Pennies and pounds are forms of British money; the phrase means that you don’t want to save a little bit of money now and pay much more money later. The money spent on an attorney, or the effort of obtaining a public defender, typically pays off in the long run.
Many people will think to themselves, “well, it’s just a traffic ticket; I’ll represent myself and save the money I’d spend hiring an attorney.” The problem is that most people do not know the ins and outs of traffic court, the traffic laws of North Carolina, how to read a driving record (it’s more complicated than you think), or what certain judges will do in certain scenarios. You could plea into a charge, even a reduced charge, and receive a higher fine, points on your license or insurance, or (worse) revocation of your license. The money you saved not hiring a lawyer just lost you your license.
Asking for a Public Defender.
Unfortunately, in our society, the media seems to put out the idea that public defenders either aren’t real attorneys, or they aren’t good attorneys. Quite the opposite.
Many criminal attorneys do several other things: they practice in civil law, family law or real estate law. Public defenders ONLY practice in criminal law and typically only in the courthouse to which they are assigned. As a result, they typically have a high degree of expertise in criminal law and, specifically, criminal law as it works in that courthouse.
In order to qualify for a public defender two things must happen.
First, the charge must be the type that, if you were convicted, you could face jail time. This means that you cannot get a public defender for speeding tickets. This also means that you cannot get a public defender for a Class 3 misdemeanor (for example simple possession of marijuana ½ oz. or less) if you have never been convicted of a crime before.
Second, by statute, you must be found to be indigent – that is, the court must find that you cannot afford to hire an attorney. To do that you must fill out what is called an “Affidavit of Indigency.” On this document, you fill out all sources of income and assets, as well as your debts.
If you are subject to jail time AND you are found to be indigent, the court will typically appoint you an attorney.
Public defenders are not free lawyers. If a person pleads guilty, or is found guilty, they are required by statute to pay a $60.00 appointment fee, plus an hourly rate. The rate depends on the type of crime charged.
Hiring an Attorney – Lawyer Up!
You can also waive and hire an attorney. What you are saying to the court when you waive and tell the court you are going to hire an attorney is this: “Judge, I don’t want to represent myself, and I don’t want you to appoint me a court-appointed lawyer. I want to go out, on my own, and hire my own attorney.”
On the first court date you do this waiver, the judge will note your waiver in the court’s file and continue your case. Then you need to immediately start to work finding what attorney you want to hire, meet with them about your case, and begin paying that person.
Unfortunately, in almost all instances, an attorney cannot make a “general appearance” unless the lawyer has been fully paid, or almost fully paid. A general appearance means that the attorney is saying to the court “Judge, this is my case. I am going to be the lawyer on the case.”
At Garrett, Walker, Aycoth & Olson, we work with clients. We allow them to make payments toward their cases. To make paying quick and easy, we offer several types of payment: payment over the phone with a credit or debit card; payment in person with cash, card or check; and payment via mail with check or cashier’s check.
Please let us know how Garrett, Walker, Aycoth & Olson can help you in your traffic or criminal matter. Whether it’s a speeding ticket or a high-level felony, we’re here to help you.