Should I ask for an attorney?

I was in court last week and listened to two different cases where the defendant had waived his right to an attorney.  It was not pleasant for anyone.  The hearing took much longer than it should have taken, the judge was frustrated because the defendant kept ‘jumping around’ in his argument and kept talking about things that were really not relevant to the case, and the defendant was frustrated because he lost and didn’t really understand why.

Of course, I’ve seen a few cases where the defendant was well prepared and the case went smoothly.  But that is the exception and it does not happen very often.

If you are charged with a crime that can result in a sentence of time in jail, the court must offer you an opportunity to have an attorney.  At the arraignment, the judge will give you three options.  (1) you can hire your own attorney — in fact, people often hire their own attorney even before they go in front of the judge for the first time; (2) you can request that the court provide an attorney for you; or (3) you can waive your right to an attorney.

If you ask for a court appointed attorney, the judge will ask you some questions about your income to see if you qualify for a court appointed attorney.  If you do qualify, the court will assign an attorney to represent you.  Sometimes this will be a public defender, and sometimes it may be a private attorney who is acting as a court appointed attorney in this case.  I wrote a prior blog post about court appointed attorneys and there is more information here.  I know some people don’t like the idea of a court appointed attorney, but usually the court appointed attorneys are well prepared and do an excellent job.  Also, if you are assigned a public defender, you should rest easy knowing that defending criminal clients is that person’s full time job!

Of course, you need to do your part and make sure that you meet with your court appointed attorney with enough lead time for them to become prepared for your case.  Remember, that it is YOUR case and you should take the lead role and contact the attorney to make the initial appointment.

If you don’t qualify for a court-appointed attorney, you can ask for time to hire an attorney on your own.  You should try to get an attorney as soon as you can because sometimes a specific attorney may not be available for the date of your next hearing.  If you have enough lead-time sometimes some rescheduling can be accomplished.  Personally, I hate it when a potential client comes in after doing noting for 30 days and tells me he needs an attorney for a hearing tomorrow!  That just isn’t enough time to get ready.

The last option is to waive your right to an attorney and handle the case on your own.  I never recommend this to anyone, even another attorney!

Sometimes you can help yourself by having a consultation with an attorney even if you can’t afford to hire the attorney to represent you at the trial.  Even knowing the process and identifying the players will help you when the time comes for you to go in front of the judge.

Bottom line?  If you have the opportunity, ask for an attorney to represent you.  The worse that can happen is the court tells you ‘no’.

If you have any questions about this or any other legal subject, please feel free to give us a call at 757-234-4650 or visit our website at

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