In Oregon, if you are charged any crime, you have the right to be represented by an attorney. Criminal cases are complex and technical, and you will be facing a prosecutor with extensive legal training and experience. Although defendants sometimes wish to represent themselves, to do so in a criminal case is unwise. You will need a trained legal expert on your side to protect your interests and your rights from the moment you are arrested as well as during your trial.
But what if you can't afford a lawyer?
If you are charged with a crime, and you cannot afford an attorney, the court will provide you with one. Generally, you must go to court and ask the judge for a court appointed attorney. This is done at the time you first appear in court and are arraigned on the charge. If you have any doubts, be sure to ask the judge if you can have a court-appointed lawyer.
To qualify for a court-appointed attorney, you must be able to show that you are unable to afford an attorney. Some courts may require that questionnaires be completed and signed by you under oath to prove your inability to pay. If you truly cannot afford an attorney, the court will supply you with one. That is your right under the law, and it is the judge's duty to protect your rights.
If you qualify for a court-appointed attorney, the judge may assign a lawyer known as a public defender to take your case. The Public Defender's Office is paid for by public funds. The duty of a public defender is to defend people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Sometimes a public defender may not be available. In such a case, the court will appoint a private attorney to represent you. The private attorney is then paid with public funds like the public defender.
When a public defender or other attorney is appointed to represent you, it is important for you to know the name and phone number of your attorney and the date, time and location of your next court appearance. Before you leave the courtroom, make sure you write down this information. Don't be afraid to ask your attorney or the court personnel to write this information down for you. It is your responsibility to stay in good contact with your lawyer to make sure that he or she can do the best possible job.
If you were represented by a court-appointed attorney, you may be required to pay court costs, including reasonable attorney fees. The amount will depend upon the type of case and your ability to pay. The judge determines the amount to be repaid and will usually give you monthly payments or a deadline in which to pay. Under Oregon law, you could be ordered to pay a fee for your court-appointed lawyer even if you are found not guilty by a judge or a jury.
Two of our most important rights are the right to a fair trial and the right to an attorney. Because of the complexity of the legal system, a fair trial is almost impossible without proper legal representation. Remember, to get the best possible legal representation, you need to stay in contact with your lawyer. It's your best chance to get the best results.
Legal Editor: Greg Scholl, October 2013