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Right to Counsel

At their first appearance defendants are advised of their right to counsel. This means that they are entitled to have an attorney of their choice represent them and answer the charges. If they indicate that they are unable to afford an attorney, Criminal Division staff are assigned to conduct indigence investigations. These investigations consider defendants' assets and liabilities, and recommend that cases be assigned to a public defender if a defendant is unable to afford a private attorney. Private attorneys are usually either self-employed or work for private law firms who charge an hourly rate for services.

In making indigence determinations, Criminal Division staff consider defendants' ability to post Bail, the amount of bail posted, the willingness of friends and family members to pay for an attorney, and any factor related to a defendant's claim of impoverishment. They review tax returns, credit and wage records and any other relevant information regarding the ability of defendants to hire their own attorneys. If a defendant is declared indigent, a public defender or "pool attorney" will handle the case until it is resolved, by a plea, downgrade,dismissal, Pretrial Intervention, or trial through to a sentencing process. Some downgraded cases are ordered, or remanded back to the Municipal Court for disposition. A local public defender may be assigned to the case by the magistrate.

If an investigation reveals assets or it is determined that a defendant has some means to pay for an attorney, the criminal case supervisor will recommend that a defendant's application for indigent defense services be denied. A Criminal Division judge may rule on the recommendation and order self representation or that the defendant hire an attorney (some attorneys take cases at a reduced rate). Over 85% of all criminal cases have a public defender assigned.

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