The Difference between Legal Aid and a Public Defender

Public Defender or Legal AidYou’ve been arrested for a criminal offense. Now what should you do? Before doing anything else or contacting anyone else, you should communicate with an attorney who is experienced in criminal law in Austin, TX. But what should you do if you can’t afford to hire an attorney? You may have heard that low-income people can use legal aid or a public defender to help them, but which one should you choose? Which one is the right option in this situation? Here are a few things that you should know about both options to help you move forward with your case:

Legal Aid

Legal aid is a not-for-profit organization that provides legal assistance for low-income individuals. Before receiving their help, you’ll need to answer a few questions and provide documentation to prove that your income level meets the requirements for their free assistance.
Unfortunately for those requiring assistance with a criminal offense, legal aid does not typically cover criminal cases. They also don’t help with medical malpractice suits, car accident or personal injury cases, or traffic violation cases. They can, however, assist you with cases involving family law, domestic violence, housing benefits, or other public benefits. Some legal aid offices will also help you with immigration, disability, and other similar cases. You’ll need to do some research to locate the legal aid office in your area to discover what kinds of cases that they can help you with, but more likely than not, they won’t be able to help you with a criminal case.

Public Defender

In 1963, the case of Gideon vs. Wainwright was brought to the US Supreme Court. The justices came to the conclusion that the Sixth Amendment requires that people receive free legal assistance when they can’t afford it. The Sixth Amendment states that you have the right to counsel. The US Supreme Court ruled that no one should be denied this right just because they can’t afford to pay for legal counsel.

After that, each court was required to provide legal assistance in the form of a public defender. When you were arrested, the arresting officer should have read your Miranda Right’s to you. They state that “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you.”

Your public defender will be able to handle your criminal case. He or she attended law school and passed the bar exam in your state. Most public defenders are experienced with criminal cases and will donate whatever time that they have to helping you.

There are several drawbacks to relying on legal aid or a public defender. Defendants worry that a public defender or an attorney who works for legal aid won’t have the same motivation to help them. They worry that the attorney won’t be as experienced or skilled at helping them. If the defendant has a more complicated case, it’s important to hire an attorney who will know what to do and what defenses to prepare for you. If you make the decision to hire an attorney, Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas can help you locate the right person for the job.

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