If you are accused of committing a crime in America and cannot afford a lawyer to defend you, the court will assign you an lawyer. Access to legal advice is a right guaranteed under the United States Constitution.
A court-appointed lawyer is called a public defender, and he represents clients who cannot afford private lawyers and are therefore at risk of losing their freedom if convicted.
It is not unusual for public defense lawyers to handle a large number of cases. In 2013, these lawyers brought a number of lawsuits ranging from 50 to 590, according to the Office of Justice Statistics, part of the US Department of Justice.
“We hold lawyers licenses just like any private lawyer,” says Rosalie Joy of the National Legal Aid and Defense Association who has worked for 29 years as a public defense lawyer in Atlanta. However, we chose jobs in the public service, and it happened that we practice law in this field. ”
The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution provided the right to counsel for criminal defendants facing federal trial. Later historical decisions in the Supreme Court have expanded this right to include all criminal prosecutions, whether state or federal, and whether it is a felony or misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment.
State governments pay for this service in various ways. Some states use standardized public defense systems where the state pays for the service. Others leave the payment to the county or city. Joy says Georgia combines the two and uses court-raised fines and fees to help offset the expenses. In the District of Columbia (Washington, DC), public defender service costs are reimbursed from Congressional funds.
The public defender’s job is always important because, according to her experience, these defendants are often “overly accused,” says Laura Hankins, the public counsel for the Public Defender Service, an organization that provides legal representation to poor children and adults facing prison sentences in Washington. (That is, they are accused of too many counts or with one charge that carries a very severe punishment) or were unfairly accused.
As an lawyer, Hankins is working to find more evidence of the alleged crime.