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Are There Pro Bono Criminal Lawyers?

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If you or a family member is arrested and charged with a crime, you may be wondering are there pro bono criminal lawyers who can assist you with your case? The answer is yes, but you will probably not find them on your own. It certainly can’t hurt to call a lawyer and ask whether he or she takes pro bono criminal cases. However, even if you cannot find a pro bono criminal lawyer on your own, the U.S. Constitution and most state constitutions contain provisions that protect individuals to ensure that they are granted legal representation to ensure a fair trial. Here’s how it works.

In most states, the state, county or city courts where the crime has been committed may offer a program in which a lawyer will be assigned to your case at no cost to you as long as you can document that you are of lower income and if the crime carries with it the potential for jail time. The state will pay the lawyer an hourly fee (or fixed fee) depending upon the crime charged and the time it takes to defend you.

Normally the lawyer is appointed at the arraignment or when you first appear before the judge to hear the charges against you. You should always ask that a lawyer be appointed for you if you cannot afford a lawyer.

The state will then pay the lawyer directly for representing you. While this isn’t really pro bono because the lawyer is getting paid, it is pro bono to you because the state is paying the lawyer and you are not.

Lawyers voluntarily sign up with the courts and are sometimes called “assigned counsel.” Many young lawyers start their practice this way, until they build up a referral source and reputation for providing good legal services. Experienced lawyers will most likely stop participating in the assigned counsel programs for criminal cases once they build their law practice.

Most of the assigned counsel programs are limited to people who, if found guilty, will serve time in jail. There are also programs that will provide legal representation to someone in family court situations that involve violence, neglect or other criminal charges. The best way to find out is to contact your local county bar association or the state bar association in the state you live in. They may have a website that provides information on where to find free legal services. Some states may also have rules that require lawyers to perform a certain amount of pro bono legal services.

Many large cities also have not-for-profit legal aid services that you can contact for more information. Again, it is recommended that you contact your local or state bar association for this referral source for whether or not there are pro bono criminal lawyers in your area.

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