What to Do if You Cannot Afford a Criminal Defense Attorney

What to Do if You Cannot Afford a Criminal Defense Attorney

A criminal arrest is scary enough without having to worry about the potential conviction and jail sentence. However, scarier still is the concern over adequate representation. Many private criminal defense attorneys can cost thousands of dollars by the time the trial is complete, and unfortunately, many defendants cannot afford private lawyers. What do defendants do who cannot afford the extravagance of a private firm? Thankfully, a high price tag does not necessarily equate to a better or more capable defense. For those facing criminal charges who cannot afford thousands of dollars for a defense strategy, they can look to three possible options for acquiring a qualified attorney.

Pro Bono

One option is to seek out an attorney who is willing to work pro bono, or free of charge. While it may seem unlikely, many lawyers offer so much time annually to representing clients for free. However, attorneys who provide such services will likely be very picky about the trials they are willing to argue, meaning they are more likely to fight for cases that help build their reputation.


Next, depending on your financial situation and your state’s rules, you may qualify for a court-appointed attorney. While many people brush off public defenders as overworked and low-level lawyers, nothing could be further from the truth. Public defenders are some of the most experienced and skilled attorneys around. Also, because they spend a significant among of time in the same building, these defenders establish strong professional relationships with prosecutors, which may benefit your case, possibly securing a plea arrangement and avoiding a criminal trial altogether. Unfortunately, the financial restriction governing access to these attorneys may be quite strict, meaning that even some low-income defendants may not have access to free representation.

Partial Indigency

Some states do allow for partial-indigency, meaning that if an individual does not meet the requirements to access a free attorney, they may still be eligible for a court-appointed attorney, but at a small fee. There are times when a defendant makes too much to qualify for a free public defender, but they make too little to pay for a private attorney. In these instances, a judge may allow a defendant to pay part of the court-cost for a public defender, which will enable them to hire a public defender at a fraction of the cost of a private firm.

Everyone has a right to a defense. Lack of money does not mitigate that right. Therefore, if you have been arrested, you can either seek a court-appointed attorney or contact a criminal defense attorney in San Mateo, CA about taking your case pro bono.

Thanks to The Morales Law Firm for their insight into criminal law and what to do if you can afford a defense lawyer.

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