How long can I be held in jail without seeing a court-appointed lawyer?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I have recently been arrested. I was wondering if I am entitled to a court-appointed attorney, and if yes, how long will it take to talk to them?”

If you are arrested you have the legal right to representation. Unfortunately, if you have limited income and funds, you may not be able to hire your own criminal defense lawyer. Given that their rates can be as high as $600 per hour, that’s not too hard to believe. So if you cannot hire your own lawyer you may have to rely on representation which has been assigned to you by the court.

Now, this representation may not happen automatically. In fact, not only will you have to request a court-appointed lawyer, you will also have to provide financial information to prove you cannot hire your own criminal defense lawyer.

When can I request a court-appointed lawyer?

Now you asked how long it would take to talk to your court-appointed attorney. In most cases, the request for a court-appointed attorney will not be made until you are arraigned, which will generally be the first time you appear before the court.

The amount of time which can transpire before your arrest and the arraignment varies. For example, in California, arraignments must be conducted without unnecessary delay and, in any event, within 48 hours of arrest, excluding weekends and holidays. Federal and state courts may also have different time limits.

At the arraignment, if you state that you want a court-appointed attorney, you may be appointed a lawyer to assist you during the arraignment hearing (although this may not be lawyer who is actually appointed to help you defend against the charges).

At the arraignment the state outlines the charges against you. The court will also determine whether bail is allowed, and if it is, the bail amount. After the arraignment, if you have been released on bail or bond, you will be free until the next appointed court date.

When is the alleged offender out on bail?

As mentioned above, whether you will be released on bail will be determined by the judge. If the court determined you will be released on bail, after the arraignment hearing, you will be escorted back to the jail and held until bail is posted.

Can I win with a court-appointed attorney?

Although all criminal defendants are entitled to a court-appointed lawyer, it’s important to understand what a court-appointed lawyer can and cannot do. Although many court-appointed lawyers are very good, most of them are overworked and may be responsible for dozens of cases at one time. In fact, some defendants complain that the only time they have met their public defender is the first day of their trial. So to answer your second question about when you will actually get to speak to your public defender about your case- the answer is it’s impossible to say for sure.

Bottom Line:

If you can afford a private defense attorney it is generally in your best interest to hire one. If you cannot hire one, however, it’s time to pray that your public defender is not so overloaded with cases that they cannot provide you with solid legal help.

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