If you can't afford an attorney, you have the right to have a lawyer provided for you in a criminal case, which generally means a public defender. But what if you want a new public defender because of problems with your assigned one?
A public defender is a government-paid attorney whose sole job is to represent criminal defendants who can't afford their own lawyer. Public defenders are held to the same standard as any other lawyer, and generally do an excellent job for their clients.
But just like in any other field, sometimes public defenders can be difficult to work with. If you think this may negatively affect your case, then you need to know how to get a new lawyer.
Getting a new public defender isn't like changing a hired attorney. You can't just fire your public defender and have a new one show up the next time.
Unlike firing a paid attorney, you need a reason to fire your public defender. The fact that you don't like him may not be enough.
A judge is more likely to permit you to change public defenders if your current lawyer is somehow violating your right to adequate representation. Some evidence of that could be:
- Missing appointments or filing deadlines,
- Not informing you about your case status or hearing dates,
- Forcing you to enter a plea, or
- Ignoring important evidence.
To change your public defender, you generally need to write a letter to the judge in your case or contact the public defender's office, depending on the rules in your state. Make sure you keep good notes of what you believe to be the biggest problems with your attorney.
There's a chance a judge will grant your request if you have good reason to change public defenders. But they're unlikely to grant a second request, so make sure you really do need a new lawyer.
Before you file any paperwork, make sure that you talk to your current public defender. Sometimes the issue isn't that your attorney isn't doing the work, it's a communication problem. Tell your attorney about what is making you unhappy, and see if something can be done to change it.
Remember that you may have to do some work to get your public defender all the information he needs to defend you. Asking you to participate in the process is not evidence that your attorney isn't working.
Bottom line: Make sure you speak up about wanting a new public defender. Your right to an attorney isn't just a right to have one show up, it's also the right to have someone on your side.
- Private lawyers in Mo. asked to take defense cases (San Francisco Chronicle)
- Public Defenders by State (FindLaw)
- Sixth Amendment Right To Counsel: What is it? (FindLaw's Blotter)