In any criminal case, other than most infractions, where the potential for jail or prison time exists, you have the right to be represented by an attorney, even if you cannot afford one. Criminal proceedings are complicated and the consequences, besides jail or prison time, can be severe. For example, a conviction can result in deportation for noncitizens or stop a legal resident alien from becoming a citizen. Certain convictions can prevent persons from holding many types of jobs.
Criminal defense attorneys, whether they are for private hire, serve as public defenders, or are appointed by the court, know about the criminal justice systems-how it works, which options are available to you, and what the likely outcomes of different options are. Whenever possible, get the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney when you are charged with a crime.
In any misdemeanor or felony criminal case (and any infraction where you have been arrested and not released on your written notice to appear, or your own recognizance, or after a deposit of bail) you should have a lawyer. You have the right to represent yourself in criminal court in California. But, because the consequences can be severe, it is best if you have a lawyer represent you.
If you cannot afford your own lawyer, the court will appoint a lawyer for you, often a public defender. Make sure you tell the judge at your arraignment that you cannot afford a lawyer. You may have to fill out a Financial Affidavit (MC-210), which is a form where you explain your financial situation under oath and show the court you cannot afford a lawyer.
If you qualify for a court appointed counsel, the court will also make a determination at the conclusion of the case of your ability to pay all or part of the cost of the attorney. If the court determines that you are at that time able to pay, the court will order you to pay all or part of the cost. This order has the same force and effect as a civil judgment. This means if you do not pay the amount ordered, the court may garnish (seize) your bank account or wages, place a lien on your home, and take other action.
The Orange County Public Defender has offices in or nearby most courthouses. You can read more about the Orange County Public Defender online or by calling (714) 834-2144.
Lawyer Referral Services can put you in touch with a lawyer who can assist you with your situation. Even if your particular problem can be resolved without a lawyer, a referral service will tell you how to get the help you need. A Lawyer Referral Service may offer low-cost or no-cost options to qualifying persons. Go to the Self-Help Center Resources page and scroll down to Lawyer Referral Services for a variety of options.