When you are arrested for and charged with a crime, you have a constitutional right to have an attorney represent you in your case. However, a criminal defense attorney can charge you thousands of dollars. You may not have this amount of money at your disposal to hire a private practice lawyer or law firm.
Instead of going without the legal representation that you need to defend yourself in court, you can instead seek out of the services of a pro bono criminal lawyer. You can determine if a pro bono criminal attorney is right for your situation by learning how to find one and what kinds of services this type of lawyer can provide to you.
What Does Pro Bono Mean?
Pro bono is a Latin term that translates as “for the public good.” In legal terms, it applies to a lawyer who is willing to take a case for free and at no cost to the client.
Lawyers in all legal specialties typically offer to take cases pro bono on occasion to fulfill the oath that they take when they are sworn into the state bar association. Part of this oath compels them to help the less fortunate in society. One way that they accomplish this obligation is by representing clients who are unable to afford to hire an attorney of their own.
An attorney who takes a criminal case pro bono typically will do so if the defendant faces extraordinary legal circumstances that could land him or her in jail or prison. He or she also can be convinced to take the case if it is high-profile and has captured the attention of the media.
Whether or not an attorney will take your case pro bono will depend on a variety of factors, however. The lawyer’s current case load and the circumstances of your case will come into play as the lawyer weighs whether or not he or she can work your case satisfactorily and get the legal outcome that you want from it.
If you cannot convince a private attorney or law firm to take your case at no cost to you, you could ask the court to appoint a public defender. A public defender is an attorney who either works in private practice or for a private law firm or exclusively for the public defender’s office. This lawyer will work your case for free and instead get paid for his or her time and services from the public defender’s office.
Public defenders are available in every jurisdiction to clients regardless of whether or not the case occurs in a rural area or large city. They fulfill an important role in the justice system in that they represent clients who cannot afford to hire attorneys of their own to defend them in criminal matters. They uphold the constitutional right for all criminal defendants to have access to competent legal counsel.
They are also adept criminal defense attorneys who are capable of handling a wide variety of criminal cases. They routinely take on cases that involve:
- Rape or sexual assault
- Armed robbery
- Identity theft
- Burglary and vandalism
They have access to the same resources for investigating and subpoenaing as privately paid attorneys. They can build effective defenses for criminal defendants and assist clients in proving their innocence in court.
If you hesitate to entrust your case to a public defender, however, you could be convinced by realizing the errors of the myths attached to these lawyers. Public defenders are not eager to take plea deals, as is commonly believed. They commonly take cases to trial and win the desired outcomes for their clients. They are legally and morally obligated to provide you with the highest quality of legal services regardless of what they get paid from the public defender’s office.
Another option that you have for finding a lawyer to take your case is to apply for legal aid services in your city or county. Every state makes available legal aid to the public. These services are restricted to the indigent, low income and at-risk populations, however.
To qualify, you generally have to make an income that is at or below the federally recognized poverty level. You also need to experience legal circumstances that put you at risk in some way.
Before you are approved for legal aid, you also will need to submit an application along with proof of your:
- Legal circumstances
- Household size
If you are facing jail time or other extraordinary criminal punishments, your case will typically be expedited so that you are paired with an attorney and paralegal who can accompany you to court during your hearing, trial or sentencing.
Reasons to Seek Pro Bono Legal Help
The main reason for why any defendant seeks out pro bono legal services involves their inability to pay for an attorney of their own. Legal services are costly and out-of-reach for many people because of limited finances. Rather than go into debt to hire an attorney, defendants many times want to find an attorney to take their cases for free.
Another reason that clients accept pro bono legal help is to bring publicity to their cases. When a case has captured the attention of the media in particular, it can be difficult to get an objective and reasonable outcome in court. High-profile defendants attract criminal defense attorneys who not only want to help the client in question but also ensure the integrity of the legal process. They also realize the potential to improve society and the justice system by litigating high-profile cases.
Finally, some defendants seek out pro bono help from private practice attorneys and law firms because they do not trust their cases to be worked competently by public defenders. They realize that public defenders carry extraordinary workloads and do not have time to devote exclusively to their legal situations. They prefer to have a private attorney work their case in order to get the best outcome in court.
These options are the most common that you have for finding a criminal defense attorney to work your case pro bono. They all allow you to defend yourself without having to worry about paying for legal services. They also are all designed to garner you the desired outcome with your case in front of a judge or jury.