We have all tuned into the end of a Law & Order episode and listened as the arresting officer diligently informs the offender that he has the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to be appointed an attorney if he cannot afford one. However, did you know that the essential right to be appointed an attorney if we cannot afford one actually has Florida origins?

The Right to an Attorney: Gideon v. Wainwright

In 1963, the United States Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright. The Supreme Court held that the United States’ Constitution guarantees those charged with a criminal offense the right to an attorney even if they cannot afford one. Previously, this was not the case. In Gideon, Clarence Earl Gideon was charged with a non-violent felony in the State of Florida; however, when he asked the court to appoint him an attorney because he could not afford one, the court declined, stating that Florida law only permitted the appointment of an attorney if an offender is charged with a capital felony, i.e., murder. Gideon appealed his case against the laws of the State of Florida and won every poor American the right to be appointed an attorney. However, it is necessary for each state to determine what it means if one “cannot afford” an attorney, as there are many individuals who may believe they are entitled to the appointment of counsel but do not qualify under Florida law.

Florida “Indigent Defendant” Law

In order to determine whether you or a loved one qualifies for the appointment of a public defender, it is necessary to review Florida law. In Florida, a person seeking an attorney must apply with the clerk of the court, and such an application must include the following information:

  • The applicant’s net income, including total salary and wages minus deductions
  • Any other income, including social security benefits and/or family support
  • A list of your assets, including cash, stocks, bonds, real estate, motor vehicles or other property
  • All the applicant’s liabilities and debts

Once an application is submitted, the clerk of the court will review the applicant’s financial data to determine whether he or she is considered “indigent” for purposes of attorney appointment. Under Florida law, you are considered indigent if you make less than 200% of the then-current federal poverty guidelines or your assets, excluding your home and one vehicle, exceed $2,500.

Florida’s Public Defender System

If you do not qualify for a public defender, you must contact a private criminal defense attorney in your area. However, even if you do qualify for a public defender, be advised that public defenders are often over-worked and underpaid, with a heavy caseload. Although excellent attorneys, the public defenders may not be able to devote as much time and effort to your case as you deserve.

St. Petersburg Private Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you are facing criminal charges, be sure to consider all of your options for representation prior to seeking the appointment of a public defender. The Khonsari Law Group has spent years serving as criminal defense attorneys in the St. Petersburg and greater Tampa Bay area. If you have been charged with a criminal offense, contact them today for a FREE, no-risk consultation at (727) 269-5300.

1 www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/facts-and-case-summary-gideon-v-wainwright

2 www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0000-0099/0027/Sections/0027.52.html