25 Sep 23

Where can I apply for a public defender in New York City if I can’t afford my own lawyer?

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Last Updated on: 26th September 2023, 03:56 am

Where to Apply for a Public Defender in New York City

Facing criminal charges but can’t afford a private attorney? Don’t worry, you still have the right to legal representation. New York City has a large public defender system that provides attorneys to people who can’t pay. Here’s a quick guide on how and where to apply for a public defender in NYC.

What is a Public Defender?

Public defenders are lawyers who work for government agencies to represent criminal defendants who can’t afford private attorneys. They handle cases from start to finish, including bail hearings, plea deals, trials, and appeals. Public defenders have special expertise in criminal law and defending the rights of the accused.

Do I Qualify for a Public Defender?

The main requirements to get a public defender in New York City are:

  • You’ve been charged with a crime that could result in jail time
  • You truly can’t afford a private attorney

Factors like income, expenses, assets, and family size are used to determine if you’re eligible based on financial need. Students, unemployed people, and low-income workers often qualify.

When Should I Apply for a Public Defender?

Apply as soon as possible after being arrested or charged. You have the right to a public defender at any critical stage, including:

  • Initial court appearance
  • Preliminary hearings
  • Bail hearings
  • Plea negotiations
  • Trial

Don’t wait until your first court date – apply right away to get help early.

Where Do I Apply for a Public Defender in NYC?

There are 5 public defender offices in NYC you can contact:

  • Bronx County – 198 E. 161st St., Bronx, NY 10451
  • New York County – 100 Centre St., New York, NY 10013
  • Kings County – 345 Adams St., Brooklyn, NY 11201
  • Queens County – 125-01 Queens Blvd., Kew Gardens, NY 11415
  • Richmond County – 30 Bay St., Staten Island, NY 10301

Apply at the office in the county where your case is being heard. You can call ahead or just walk in – no appointment needed.

What Do I Need to Apply?

Bring the following items and information when applying for a public defender:

  • Photo ID like a driver’s license
  • Social Security Number
  • Proof of income like pay stubs or tax returns
  • Details on your criminal charges
  • Contact info for witnesses or others involved in your case

Financial records are key, as your income level will determine if you qualify. Be ready to answer questions about your employment, expenses, assets, debts, and family obligations.

What If I’m Denied a Public Defender?

If your application is denied, you can:

  • Reapply if your financial situation changes
  • File an appeal within 30 days explaining why you still can’t afford private counsel
  • Request the judge reassess your eligibility at your next court appearance
  • Contact legal aid organizations for assistance

Don’t give up – keep pursuing your right to an attorney. The consequences of going without representation could be severe.

What If I Want to Change My Court-Appointed Attorney?

If you have issues working with your public defender, you can request a new one by:

  • Filing a written complaint with the public defender office
  • Speaking directly to the judge at your next court date

However, judges rarely grant these requests unless there is a strong conflict of interest or major incompetence. Your attorney is still obligated to provide you with the best defense possible.

How Much Does a Public Defender Cost?

The services of public defenders themselves are 100% free for those who qualify. However, you may have to pay some costs like:

  • Application fees – typically $25-$50
  • Contribution toward investigation costs if you can afford it
  • Court fines and fees if convicted

Speak to your defender’s office if you absolutely can’t pay any required costs.

What Cases Do Public Defenders Handle?

Public defenders represent qualifying clients for nearly any type of criminal charge, including:

  • Misdemeanors – like petty theft, DUI, simple assault
  • Felonies – like burglary, robbery, sex crimes, homicides
  • Traffic cases – if jail time is a potential penalty
  • Juvenile cases – for minors charged with crimes

The only cases they can’t handle are civil suits and family court matters like divorce or child custody.

Do Public Defenders Provide as Good of Representation as Private Attorneys?

Public defenders are often highly skilled defense lawyers with experience unique to criminal law. Don’t assume private attorneys are necessarily better. Public defenders handle a high volume of cases, allowing them to develop specialized expertise.

However, public defenders typically have high caseloads that can limit time spent on each client. If you can scrape together funds for a private attorney, they may be able to devote more individual attention to building your defense.

What If I Miss the Deadline to Apply for a Public Defender?

Don’t panic, but act quickly. Immediately contact the public defender office in your county and explain your situation. They may still be able to appoint someone to your case, or refer you to alternative legal resources.

If you’ve already missed court dates, your only option may be to request the judge assign you an attorney when you appear before them again. Bring documentation to prove why you were unable to apply for a public defender in time.


Facing criminal prosecution is scary, but New York City has dedicated public defenders ready to protect your rights. Visit the defender office in the county where your case is located and bring financial records to apply for free legal representation.

Public defenders provide skilled defense services for people who can’t afford private lawyers. Don’t be afraid to lean on them for support during the difficult criminal justice process.