What if I can’t afford an attorney to represent me on a battery charge?

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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: Jul 15, 2021

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If you are facing battery charges but can’t afford an attorney, you should be aware of your rights and some of the possible consequences for the charges. In particular, before you agree to any plea bargain, you should understand the details of your right to an attorney, how to waive those rights, and some of the consequences for waiving your right to an attorney when faced with a battery charge.

Your Right to An Attorney

When you are arrested and charged with a crime, you have the right to be represented by an attorney, and if you can’t afford one, you have the right to rely on an attorney provided by the court. However, you are the one that must invoke these rights. When you show up to your first hearing, the judge will ask you what do you want to do about the charges that have been leveled against you. The judge may also ask how you intend to plea. This is the time to ask for an attorney if you cannot afford one, especially if you did not do so while in jail. If you are facing an offense that could subject you to jail time or confinement as a punishment, and you are have no ability to pay for counsel, the court is required to appoint you an attorney. Your ability to pay is usually measured against state guidelines.

If you are indigent, meaning you cannot pay, the judge will appoint you a competent attorney. Usually the judge will keep a list of court appointed attorneys deemed qualified to handle battery charges. He will then assign the next attorney on the list to appoint you. After your case in concluded, if the court feels that you can make some payments, the court can order you to reimburse the state or county for your free representation. Your repayment conditions will depend on the attitude of the judge regarding representation in your jurisdiction.

The right to an attorney can be waived, and you can waive this right but not asking for one. Some states require a written admonishment by the court and a written waiver by the defendant. A waiver ensures that you understand what you are giving up and you acknowledge the risks are associated with self-representation. Do not sign this document without careful consideration, since it outlines your valuable rights as a defendant. If you do chose to represent yourself, anything you tell the prosecutor while negotiating a plea on your battery charge could be used against you later. Before you sign a waiver, you should understand all of the consequences of your plea.

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The Potential Consequences of a Battery Charge

Many states treat a basic battery charge as a misdemeanor offense. At first glance, some defendants are not worried about a simple assault charge. However, even misdemeanor battery charges can appear on background checks and can potentially be used to enhance a later domestic battery charge. For example, in Texas, a first assault family violence charge is considered a misdemeanor. If you acquire another assault family violence charge twelve years later, the original assault conviction can be used to enhance an otherwise misdemeanor offense to a felony. Depending on how a case is classified in your home state, your charge may already be classified as a felony with long term consequences.

Once you sign the bottom line, you’re obligated to live with the plea bargain you entered and all of its consequences. In addition to enhancement dangers, many employers will refuse to consider you for certain employment opportunities if you have a history of battery convictions. For many reasons, plea bargains and convictions can be complex. Understand and use your right to an attorney to make sure that your defenses are heard and your interests are protected.

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