Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 18, 2011

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Whether or not your parents will be billed for the cost of having a public defender appointed to your case may depend on the state in which you live and yours and your family’s financial resources. A licensed attorney known as a public defender is appointed by the juvenile court in criminal cases to represent defendants who cannot afford to pay for counsel. This public defender may be a member of a publicly funded government agency that is established to represent indigent offenders. In some states, non-profit agencies that are funded through charitable donations, grants or other non-public sources are established to provide public defender services.

When Is a Public Defender Appointed?

A public defender will be appointed only if the defendant does not have income or resources in excess of a specific economic threshold. Either pre-trial services or the judge will determine if a particular defendant needs a public defender. A defendant that does not show sufficient financial need will be told to hire his own attorney. In some areas, if a determination of partial indigence is made the defendant may be ordered to repay to the court some of the costs of appointing counsel.

In multiple defendant cases, the public defender’s office, because of conflict of interest concerns, will only be able to represent one of the indigent offenders. If others are in need of an attorney and cannot afford to pay one, the court will appoint independent, private counsel that will accept a lower fee from the court to represent these offenders. 

Consequences of Misleading the Court Regarding Ability to Pay

It is not wise for a defendant to lie to the court about his ability to pay an attorney to represent him. If the lie is discovered and the defendant actually does have the financial ability to hire an attorney, he will be ordered to repay the court for the cost of his representation. If a public defender ends up representing you based on a misrepresentation of your ability to pay an attorney, you may also be charged with a crime, such as making false representations to authorities, which could be punished by a fine or imprisonment.