Qualifying for a Public Defender in Brooklyn Criminal Court

Getting a Public Defender for Your Criminal Case in Brooklyn

Dealing with criminal charges in Brooklyn can be scary and overwhelming. Believe me, I get it. You probably have a ton of questions about the legal process and what your options are. The good news is that if you can’t afford a private attorney, you may qualify for a free public defender to represent you.

In this article, I’ll walk through everything you need to know about qualifying for and working with a public defender in Brooklyn criminal court. We’ll cover:

  • Who’s eligible for a public defender
  • How to apply and qualify
  • What to expect if you get approved
  • Working with your public defender
  • Other low-cost legal resources

I know this is a stressful time. But with the right legal help, you can get through this!

Am I Eligible for a Public Defender in Brooklyn?

The first question is whether you financially qualify for a free public defender. To be eligible, you have to show that hiring a private defense attorney would be an “undue hardship.”

The exact income limits depend on your household size. But as an example, for a family of 4, if your total household income is less than $46,400 per year, you’d likely qualify based on income alone.

Even if your income is above the limit though, you may still qualify if paying for a private lawyer would prevent you from affording basics like food, housing, and medical care. So it’s always worth applying!

Some other factors that can help you qualify:

  • Currently receiving public assistance (food stamps, Medicaid, etc.)
  • Facing jail time if convicted
  • Immigration status could be impacted
  • Disabled or have medical issues
  • Student with limited income

So if you’re low-income or can’t afford thousands in legal fees, don’t assume you won’t qualify without applying!

How Do I Apply for a Public Defender?

Applying is the next step after your arrest and arraignment (first court hearing). Here’s a quick run-through of what to expect:

1. Fill out a detailed financial affidavit. This requires listing your income, expenses, assets, debts, and more. Be sure to disclose everything, as hiding assets could disqualify you.

2. Interview with the judge. The judge reviews your affidavit and asks questions to confirm details. Be honest even if it’s uncomfortable – lying could mean being denied.

3. Get their decision. Often you’ll find out on the spot if you qualify. If the judge needs more info, they may do follow ups later.

Pro Tip: If you’re denied a public defender but still can’t afford a lawyer, ask if you qualify for “18B counsel”. This is reduced-cost representation based on the same financial guidelines.

What Happens After You’re Assigned a Public Defender?

First, congrats! Having that free legal representation is a huge help. Now you can focus on building your defense instead of struggling alone.

Here’s a quick preview of what it’s like working with your public defender:

1. Review your charges and case details. They’ll want to fully understand the charges against you and the prosecution’s evidence. Be 100% open even about sensitive stuff – holding back could hurt your case.

2. Discuss defense strategy. Your lawyer will explain the options and legal strategies to fight the charges. This is when tough decisions might need to be made, but your defender knows best.

3. Attend meetings and court dates. You must show up whenever your lawyer needs to discuss the case in person! Skipping meetings jeopardizes the case, so make it a top priority even if it’s hard to get time off work or arrange childcare. Be patient too – public defenders juggle heavy caseloads.

The reality is battling criminal charges is complicated and scary. Having an expert public defender guiding you through makes ALL the difference. So lean on their expertise and stay committed to working together.

Finding Other Low-Cost Legal Help in Brooklyn

If you aren’t eligible for a public defender, all hope isn’t lost! Here are some other options to find affordable legal services:

  • Reach out to legal aid organizations. Organizations like Brooklyn Defender Services or New York Legal Assistance Group provide free or low-cost help based on income.
  • Hire a lawyer on payment plans. Many private defense lawyers offer flexible payment plans, even if you can’t pay high retainers upfront.
  • Use legal clinics. Local law schools and Bar Associations often host free or sliding-scale legal clinics. It’s a chance to get advice from lawyers and law students.
  • Consider limited-scope representation. Instead of hiring a lawyer to handle your entire case, you can pay just for specific help with documents, court appearances, or negotiations. It saves money by unbundling services.

I know it’s daunting trying to secure legal help when money is tight. But keep doing research, asking around, and applying anywhere you might qualify. Having professional legal guidance makes a huge difference!


How New York’s Freedom of Information Law Works

New York Courts Self-Help Guide on Public Defense

Video Explainer from Brooklyn Defender Services