First Appearances Part II: Representation Options Explained
In our previous blog of this two-part post about first appearances in District Criminal Court (First Appearances Part I: What Happens?), we discussed the main goal of a first appearance - telling the Court what you want to do about representation.
Essentially, there are three options available. You can represent yourself. You can hire an attorney. Or, you can ask for a court appointed attorney. In this post, we explain what each of those three options entails.
I never recommend this option. Even if you know what you want to do in your case, it is still best to have an attorney assist and advise you throughout the process. There are some circumstances, however, where representing yourself may be your only feasible option.
For instance, if you are charged with a low level driving or drug-related offenses and have no criminal record, it is possible that (even in the worst case scenario) you would not have to serve any time in jail. If you are not at risk of going to jail you are not entitled to court appointed counsel. Don't assume you are not eligible for court appointed counsel, the Judge will tell you if you are or if you are not. If you are not eligible for court appoint counsel and cannot afford to hire your own attorney, representing yourself may be your only option.
Hiring an Attorney
If you choose this option, you will be asked to sign a waiver and swear that you are waiving your right to court appointed counsel. If you already have a lawyer, they will likely be present to make a "general appearance" (meaning, your lawyer will tell the Court that he or she represents you). If you do not already have a lawyer, It is a good idea to have already consulted with an attorney (or several) before going to your first appearance so that you have an idea of how much representation will cost. Once you waive your right to court appointed counsel, a judge does not have to let you reapply simply because you did not know how expensive a lawyer would be.
Requesting a Court Appointed Attorney
It is important to know two things about court appointed counsel: Not everyone is eligible and a court appointed attorney is not a free attorney (fees can/will be assessed as part of your court costs). If you are facing incarceration, you have a right to ask for court appointed counsel. A judge will require you fill out an affidavit with information about your income and expenses and swear that everything you wrote down is true. It is very important to be honest on your affidavit and fill it out completely. If you are in court with your minor child, their affidavit should reflect their income, not yours.
Judge's have discretion in determining what makes someone eligible for court appointed counsel. After reviewing your affidavit, the Judge will tell you whether or not you are eligible for a court appointed attorney. If you are eligible, you will be given contact information for your attorney. It is your responsibility to contact your attorney. While, many attorneys reach out to their clients - not all will - and you need to take the lead in making contact as soon as possible.