How Poor Is ‘Too Poor’ to Hire a Lawyer?


Nearly one-third of states require potential indigent defendants to pay application fees when requesting counsel, and almost every state requires defendants to either reimburse the state or make a contribution for representation, according to a new report from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).

Researchers examined how states decide who is “too poor” to hire a lawyer, as well as potential roadblocks in place that might deter indigent defendants from requesting counsel.

Sixteen states require preliminary administrative fees, ranging from $10 in New Mexico to $150 in Massachusetts, which also offers the alternative of 15 hours community service instead of the fee.

A $100 “administrative fee” is charged in Delaware, where the public defense system was recently the focus of an extremely critical report by the non-profit Sixth Amendment Center, which said the state fails 'the vast majority.'

Delaware is one of 18 states that consider public assistance or federal needs-based benefits as income when deciding whether a defendant is eligible for assigned counsel, according to the NACDL study.

Read the full report HERE.

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