An Indigent Defendant is Entitled to a Court-Appointed Lawyer, Not a Lawyer of His Choice

In Michigan, any qualifying person charged with an offense with the possibility of incarceration is entitled to a court-appointed lawyer.

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Although there are advantages to having retained counsel, proceeding without at least an appointed lawyer is unwise.

If you are charged with a crime and facing the possibility of time in jail or prison, and you cannot afford to hire a retained criminal defense attorney, you are entitled to an attorney at public expense. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court must appoint one. If you are arrested, arraigned, or appear in court for the first time on a criminal charge, the court will ask if you can afford a private criminal defense lawyer or need one appointed. Although you can get a court-appointed lawyer if you are indigent, the only way to get a lawyer of your choice is to retain a criminal defense lawyer privately.

What do I say to get a court-appointed lawyer?

When you request court-appointed counsel, the court will provide you with a form to complete by listing all of your assets and debts. The judge assigned to your case will review the form and determine your eligibility for court-appointed counsel. If you qualify, you are entitled to representation at court expense. To get a court-appointed lawyer, the defendant must be “indigent.” Indigent means lacking the financial means that if they hired a lawyer, they would be unable to provide for their basic necessities, such as food, shelter, clothing, and medical care.

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Is a court-appointed lawyer free?

An appointed lawyer is “free,” but only at first. Court-appointed lawyers are paid one of three ways. Some appointed attorneys are paid an amount that depends on the services provided. In other cases, a lawyer or law firm may be hired on a contract basis, and fees are predetermined, not dependent on time or services provided. Finally, some defense lawyers are hired on a contract basis, and their compensation remains constant regardless of the number of clients or the quality of services provided. In each case, the court-appointed lawyers are paid by the court, a city, or a county.

You will be ordered to reimburse the court for the cost or a portion of the cost of the appointed lawyer once your case is completed. In other words, there may not be an upfront fee for a court-appointed lawyer; however, the indigent defendant is then ordered to reimburse the government for the cost of the lawyer when the case is over. The biggest concern for individuals who utilize the services of appointed counsel is that they can be held in contempt or charged with a probation violation if the appointed lawyers are not repaid.

What is the difference between a court-appointed lawyer and a retained criminal defense attorney?

Depending on the circumstances, there may be a significant difference in the quality of legal representation between an appointed lawyer and retained counsel. A defense lawyer’s talent, experience, aggressiveness, and reputation will likely make a huge difference in resolving a case. A top lawyer may achieve a dismissal compared to a conviction following the appointment of a less effective lawyer. Similarly, an excellent attorney can be the difference between a jail or prison sentence and a sentence without incarceration.

Understanding that there are exceptions to every rule, most retained lawyers can dedicate more time to critically important research, investigation, communication, negotiation, and preparation. Unfortunately, some retained lawyers provide lackluster work. Conversely, retained defense lawyers who maintain an extraordinary reputation for being top trial lawyers offer an unequaled level of service.

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Should I get a court-appointed lawyer?

If you cannot afford a good, retained lawyer, you would be foolish not to request appointed counsel. Judges are bound to run their courtrooms according to complex court rules and rules of evidence. Prosecutors are ethically required to follow specific rules. However, prosecutors and city attorneys will not hesitate to take advantage of a person without counsel or with a low-cost lawyer who either does not have extensive knowledge of the rules or doesn’t know them. In some cases, court-appointed attorneys are required to maintain minimal levels of continuing legal education and have at least some experience to draw upon in defense of their indigent clients. In federal court, the appointed lawyers, called Criminal Justice Act (CJA) counsel, are some of the most experienced lawyers in the state.

What should I expect from a good criminal defense attorney?

A good criminal defense attorney plays a crucial role in protecting your rights and ensuring you receive a fair trial if you are facing felony or misdemeanor charges in Michigan, even if you have to get a court-appointed lawyer. Here are some expectations you should have from a competent criminal defense attorney:

  • Expertise in Criminal Law: Your attorney should have a deep understanding of criminal law, including relevant statutes, case law, and legal procedures. They should be familiar with the local judges, prosecutors, and court staff.
  • Legal Strategy: A good attorney will develop a strategic defense plan tailored to your case. They will assess the evidence against you, identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, and determine the best course of action to pursue, including negotiation, pretrial motions, or going to trial. Also, your lawyer should take the time to discuss the case with you, the evidence against you, and your defense strategy.
  • Communication: Effective communication is critical. Your attorney should keep you informed about the progress of your case, explain the legal process, and answer your questions. They should also provide you with realistic expectations regarding potential outcomes. It is fair and reasonable to expect return calls and emails within a reasonable time. Retained and court-appointed lawyers are ethically obligated to reasonably communicate with their clients.
  • Protection of Your Rights: Your attorney should ensure that your constitutional rights, such as the right to remain silent, a fair trial, and protection against self-incrimination, are upheld throughout the legal process. Even in the face of aggressive prosecutors and harsh judges, your defense lawyer must defend and protect you at all costs.
  • Investigation and Evidence Gathering: Your attorney should conduct a thorough investigation to gather evidence that supports your defense. This may involve interviewing witnesses, reviewing police reports, obtaining surveillance footage, etc. A retained lawyer will likely have more extensive resources and time to investigate your case and defense; however, if you have to get a court-appointed lawyer, they still have a legal obligation to investigate and advance your defense.
  • Negotiation Skills: A criminal defense attorney can often negotiate with the prosecution for a plea deal or reduced charges. A good attorney should be skilled in negotiation to secure the best possible outcome for you.
  • Courtroom Experience: If your case goes to trial, your attorney should be a skilled litigator with experience in the courtroom. They should be able to present your case effectively, cross-examine witnesses, and argue legal points persuasively.
  • Empathy and Support: Facing criminal charges can be emotionally challenging. A good defense attorney should provide support, understanding, and empathy throughout the process to help you cope with stress and uncertainty.
  • Transparency and Fees: If you retain a private defense attorney, such as the ones with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C., they should be transparent about their fees, billing practices, and any potential additional costs associated with your case.

It’s important to remember that no attorney can guarantee a specific outcome, as the legal system is complex, and various factors can influence outcomes. However, a competent criminal defense attorney will work diligently to protect your rights and achieve the best possible result for your case.

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Why consider hiring a criminal defense lawyer with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C.?

Every lawyer with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. has extensive experience focused on providing the highest caliber of criminal defense possible. Since 1998, our Defense Team has diligently worked to develop techniques and strategies that have proven successful in achieving dismissals, winning motions, sentences without incarceration, and other highly favorable results. No lawyer can ethically promise or guarantee any particular outcome; however, our lawyers can promise and guarantee that we will do everything reasonably possible to help our clients achieve the best achievable results. We cannot make our legal fees fit within every budget; however, we will do everything possible to make hiring us affordable.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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