Some people who are compelled by the government (rather than a private person or entity) to appear in court are entitled to have attorneys appointed to represent them at government expense, in whole or in part. Examples of situations where people are compelled by the government to appear in court are:
- Criminal, probation violation and contempt proceedings (where there is a possibility that the person will be sentenced to serve time in jail);
- Civil commitment proceedings (where the person may be involuntarily committed for mental health treatment);
- Juvenile delinquency proceedings in instances where the juvenile is alleged to have committed an act that would be a crime if the juvenile were an adult.
If a person is involved in any of these types of court cases and determined by the court to be financially eligible, he or she will be provided with legal representation by an Public Defender, 2nd Judicial Circuit attorney.
In addition, people who are incarcerated and who file petitions for a writ of habeas corpus and people who file petitions for post-conviction relief from a criminal conviction are entitled to appointed counsel if they are financially eligible. A person who wishes to file an appeal and is indigent is also represented by the Public Defender, 2nd Judicial Circuit.
Someone is financially eligible to have an attorney appointed to represent him or her if hiring an attorney would cause a "substantial financial hardship" for the individual in providing basic economic necessities for the person and his or her dependents. An individual must apply for court-appointed counsel by completing a detailed financial statement concerning income, assets and debts for the person and the person's spouse, if any. This information is provided to a deputy Clerk of the Court who reviews the financial information and makes a determination as to whether or not the person is eligible for government-paid counsel. If the Clerk of Court determines the applicant is not indigent, he/she may request the court to review that decision.
If someone is determined to be eligible, the court may still require that person to pay some amount toward the cost of court-appointed counsel. In addition, anyone who applies for court-appointed counsel is charged an "application fee," if their financial situation allows the payment of such a fee. The application fee is due payable to the clerk within seven days of completing the application. In criminal cases where a person is convicted, a defendant who has been provided with court-appointed counsel can be sentenced by the judge to "repay" all or part of the costs of public defense representation, but only if the judge determines the person has the financial ability to make such a repayment.
Public defense attorneys represent their clients just as privately hired attorneys do. These attorneys have an ethical responsibility to work for the best possible resolution of the case for the client. As with privately hired attorneys, all dealings between a court-appointed attorney and the client are confidential. These attorneys represent their clients - not the government.
Public defense attorneys are also entitled to have non-attorney services, such as interpreter and expert witness services, paid for by the government if these services are determined to be reasonable and necessary for the attorney's representation.
Individuals who are determined to be eligible for court-appointed counsel do not have the right to choose who their attorney will be. However, they do have the right to have competent legal representation.