If you are taken to court for any reason, you have a right to be represented by an attorney. This is true, whether you are a juvenile or an adult. But what if you cannot afford an attorney? If you are charged with a crime which may result in jail time, and if you cannot afford an attorney, the court will usually appoint a lawyer at no charge. The law does not want anyone sent to jail without full legal protection.
Criminal law and criminal defense are so complex and technical that you need a trained legal expert on your side if you are to get a fair trial. If you are charged with a crime you will be prosecuted by an attorney for the government who has extensive legal training. It is only reasonable that you should be defended by someone who has similar training and abilities.
In order to qualify for an attorney at no cost, you must be able to show that you are unable to employ an attorney because of lack of finances. Some Courts may require that documents be filled out in order to prove your inability to pay. If you are unable to afford an attorney, the Court must supply you with a free attorney. This is your right under the law.
In criminal cases, if you qualify for a free attorney, the judge will assign a lawyer to represent you. In such cases the attorney is paid for by public funds. The attorneys appointed by the court are trained attorneys. They are as prepared to represent a private citizen accused of a crime as the District Attorney General is prepared to prosecute that crime.
If the Court appoints an attorney to represent you but you are able to pay a part of the cost, the Court may require you to make payments into the Court. This will of course depend on your ability to pay.
We all have many legal rights. It is essential that we know our rights. One of the most important of these rights is the right to a fair trial. Because of the complexity of the legal system a fair trial is almost impossible without proper legal representation. Your right to a fair trial, therefore, includes the right to be represented by an attorney whether or not you can pay. So remember, if you are charged with a crime that could send you to jail and you cannot afford an attorney, you have a right to an attorney at no charge and the court will supply you with one who is well qualified to give you a competent defense. If you can afford an attorney, on the other hand, you may employ a private attorney of your choice at your expense.
Whether you can afford to employ an attorney of your choice, or you have an attorney appointed for you by the court at no obligation to you other than to the extent that you are able to pay, it is important that you have an attorney to assist and represent you at all phases of the criminal proceeding.
In a civil suit, the general rule is that you do not have a "right" to an appointed lawyer. Therefore, if you have a case other than a criminal case you need to obtain a lawyer of your choice. There are cases that a private attorney will handle without charging you a fee for his services. These are cases in which the attorney believes that fees can be obtained from the other party to the lawsuit. This arrangement is known as a "contingent fee" and does not depend on your ability to pay. In addition some attorneys will arrange for fees to be paid over an extended period of time.
If you have a civil case that a private attorney will not accept on a contingent-fee basis, you may choose to contact the Legal Aid Society in your county. These organizations are independent not-for-profit law offices that provide free civil legal assistance to persons whose total/gross household income and assets are below federal income guidelines.
There are certain types of cases that Legal Aid is prohibited by federal regulations from accepting. Additionally, due to limited resources, Legal Aid cannot accept all cases for representation and has to establish case acceptance priorities. To the extent resources permit, Legal Aid organizations provide legal assistance in the areas of family law, especially domestic violence; public entitlements, such as TENNCARE, food stamps, Social Security, etc.; housing law, including both public and private housing; consumer law, and community economic development. Legal Aid also offers special programming in elder law issues, health insurance counseling, and fair housing.
The Tri-Cities Legal Aid Society maintains office hours from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday (the office closes for lunch from 12:00 until 1:00). There are a limited number of opportunities for Saturday interviews. To request assistance with a new legal problem, Legal Aid recommends that you call their office at 9:00 a.m. Monday through Friday. Tri-Cities Legal Aid Society's phone number is 928-8311.