I think it’s important to explain how criminal and civil cases get shifted through the legal system. Every day, thousands of cases go through the courts. Private lawsuits, public lawsuits, criminal charges, and civil settlements of all sorts are handed between paralegals, defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and juries. The system can be overwhelming, to say the least.
Those able to obtain a private lawyer have an easier time in court. When my close friend in Tampa was injured in a freak boating accident, she called Anderson & Anderson, filed a lawsuit against the negligent party, and easily obtained a settlement for her damages. Another friend of mine in Texas got pulled over and charged with a DUI because the officer decided there was probable cause. He hired the best defense lawyer he could find and got the charges quickly dismissed.
Unfortunately, low-income families don’t always have the luxury of seeking out strong representation when they’re in trouble or deserving of compensation. Thankfully, we have a public legal system in place to help these low-income individuals when they need representation.
Public defenders come into play in criminal cases, but what about people who get injured in a car accident, want to seek custody of a child, or need help in another civil matter and can’t afford a lawyer? For civil cases, each state employs legal aids to offer assistance.
Who’s Eligible for Public Defender or Legal Aid Services?
If you’ve been charged with a criminal offense, your right to an attorney is stated in the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment. You’ll need to meet certain low-income criteria in order to qualify for a court-appointed attorney and you may be assigned a public defender or a private attorney depending on the circumstances.
Your qualification will be based on proof of income and expenses, or lack thereof. Unfortunately, public defenders are usually given a limited amount of time to work with their clients because of their large caseloads.
Qualifying for legal aid services will depend on a number of factors such as your income, your expenses, your health, your location, and your safety. Civil cases may take priority if it’s an issue involving children, domestic violence, civil rights, or your health.
While working with public legal services can be frustrating, it’s a good thing that we have these services available in our country. Over time, we’ll hopefully have bigger budgets to improve these systems and give more time and aid for low-income individuals in need of criminal and civil legal aid. If you’re currently in need, it’s good to know that there are options for representation no matter what your issue may be.