When Am I Entitled to a Public Defender in Florida?

when am i entitled to a public defenderThe Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is a guarantee for those accused of crimes to have representation throughout their criminal case. This is a key principle within the justice system of the United States, and Florida has a system of public defenders for those who cannot afford a private attorney to counsel them. 

Florida Requirements for Access to a Public Defender

Before a defendant is assigned a public defender in Florida, they must first complete the required affidavit declaring their indigency. This statement is a sworn document that lists out all income and assets a person has along with any liabilities, dependents, or other factors that affect their income. The state has specific financial qualifications for individuals to meet before granting their need for a public defender. Generally, the benchmark is an income equal to or less than 200% of the poverty guidelines set out by the federal government. 

In addition to meeting these income standards, one must also pay a $50 application fee when filing this affidavit, regardless of whether they can pay it or not. Some agencies may allow payment of this fee once the case is over, but not always. 

Misdemeanor Case Loophole to Disallow Use of a Florida Public Defender 

A recent analysis by The Miami New Times found that from 2017 to 2018, only 45% of misdemeanor cases in Florida had a public defender present. To further ensure accuracy of their finding, the organization also cross-referenced and analyzed additional state databases and found even more concerning numbers. In areas with higher populations, like Miami-Dade, less than 40% of the recorded cases had a defender. Numbers were even worse for private lawyers working similar cases. 

What is behind this worrisome trend? Florida law allows for a court to remove a defendant’s public defender if the prosecution does not pursue jail time. This opens up an opportunity for a prosecutor to further weaken a defendant’s ability to defend themself through technical maneuvering within the law. While the accused may not immediately face jail time, the imposed fines and penalties could still lead back to such a sentence if they are unable to pay off the ordered court costs.

Further, defendants that plead guilty because they do not understand the process or cannot effectively represent their case to the court will have a permanent record that will likely stifle work or housing opportunities while simultaneously creating financial hardship. This catch-22 situation highlights the importance of finding a private attorney when facing a criminal charge in the state of Florida.

Issues with Relying on a Public Defender

Without a doubt, public defenders provide a critically needed public service in the American criminal justice system. Still, there are several reasons to go with a private criminal defense attorney instead of a public defender. 

Your Public Defender is Assigned by the Court

When you need legal counsel to represent your case, it is important to be able to speak with several and choose the one that best fits your needs. This does not happen when getting a public defender for your case. The court assigns one to you, and it can be difficult to switch if they are not doing a good job of defending you. 

Limited Time to Discuss Your Case

It is no secret that public defenders have extremely heavy caseloads, and one person can only stretch their time so much in a day full of client appointments, hearings, and paperwork. While they may want to give you the time to offer reassurances or advice about your case, public defenders simply cannot spare the extra minutes.

Long Wait Times in Court

In the courtroom, private attorneys generally go to the head of the line when waiting on hearings. Public defenders usually have to wait because they are a public service. Additionally, while many misdemeanor cases do not require a client to be present for some of the hearings, these public servants will typically need you to be there and wait until it is time for your case to come before the judge. This process can take hours or even days with a full docket. 

Trust an Orlando Criminal Defense Attorney for Your Court Case

The Orlando criminal defense lawyers at The Umansky Law Firm have over 100 years of combined experience and can help position you for a favorable court ruling. As former Florida prosecutors at the state and local level, we have extensive knowledge of both sides of the criminal justice system, having tried hundreds of cases in Florida courtrooms. We cannot guarantee your outcome, but we can guarantee that we will dedicate ourselves to seeking the best possible result for your case. 

To arrange your free consultation with one of our attorneys, call us at (407) 228-3838 or contact us online 24/7.