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Do Criminal Defense Lawyers Ever Work Pro Bono?

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Pro bono cases are legal cases that lawyers work on for free or at a reduced rate. Many lawyers do pro bono work as for charitable reasons or to drum up business. However, many legal aid clinics and legal hotlines usually focus on specific issues, like women’s rights, immigration or civil rights. Criminal defense lawyers also work on pro bono cases, but in different venues than constitutional or civil lawyers.

Costs of a Criminal Defense

Criminal defense lawyers are a necessary part of the criminal justice trial system. However, private criminal defense lawyers are quite expensive. The average cost for a fighting a misdemeanor in court is $3,000 and up; for a felony, the price is at least $15,000 or more. Each case varies, depending on the location, the case’s complexity and the number of billable hours.

Public Defenders

The government provides free criminal defense lawyers for criminal cases, called public defenders. This right is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution. Public defenders are paid by the state, local or federal government court system. Many public defenders work as full-time employees for the government in the public defender department. Some public defender departments have separate divisions for juvenile and adult cases. Other states simply hire criminal defense law firms or solo criminal defense lawyers to work as contractors on a case by case basis with indigent clients. Many public defenders have good relationships with the prosecutors and the judges in the court system, which can often work in the defendant’s favor when working on deals or plea bargains.

Public defenders are free only for defendants who qualify according to low-income requirements. The defendant will have to submit financial information about monthly income, property, debts, monthly expenses and the number of dependents. If a defendant’s income is too high, then the defendant may qualify to pay half of the fees instead of the whole cost. In some states, public defenders only work on criminal cases where the punishment includes some amount of jail or prison time.

Law School Training or Legal Clinic Programs

Many law schools across the country run legal clinics where the defendants may get free criminal defense help. These legal clinics or projects may work in tandem with the local public defender’s office or the law school may run these programs as separate entities with full-time staff members. Law students usually are assigned the minor criminal defense cases, like infractions or misdemeanors, and they work under the guidance of more experienced criminal defense lawyers. By working on these cases, the law students gain real-world experience in criminal defense law.

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