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Can I be denied a public defender?

Hudson, OH |
Filed under: Civil rights

I went to face the judge today on an OMVI charge and plead not guilty. I asked for a public defender and the judge said I may not qualify. I have no assets and only $1300.00 in my bank account. He said that because I am currently living with my parents he could take into account their assets and income to see if I qualify. Is this true? My parents have no legal obligation to me and I am just staying here temporarily.

Attorney Answers 3


The Indigent guidelines for a public defender or court appointed attorney take into consideration the "household" income in relation to the number f people in the household. You can find the guidelines at this link: If you are gainfully employed, it is unlikely you will qualify for a public defender or court appointed counsel.

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Once you go through the application process, they can usually give you an answer on the spot or within 24 hours. Each court has a different process in making the determination. If you do not meet their criteria, you can be denied and you would be responsible for providing your own defense. In a matter as complex as a DUI case, you not only need an attorney, but one who is well-versed in DUI law and routinely handles DUI cases in the jurisdiction where you are charged.

Dan J. Weisenburger
Attorney at Law

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I've conducted multiple litigations involving this question. The State Public Defender's Office promulgates guidelines to determine where the "indigency line" actually is. The court of appeals covering your county requires prisoners to file an inmate account and show that they have less than $125.00 in their account, or else they demand that the filing fee be paid. I am currently litigating that case in the Ohio Supreme Court: State ex rel. Wenker v. Ninth District Court of Appeals. How that case will end up, only time will tell.

If you do not have funds to hire an attorney, and the trial court refuses to appoint one. I would do two things: 1) ask to say on the record (with a court reporter taking down what you are saying) that you do not have money to hire a lawyer and 2) call various lawyers and ask them if they would take your case for free (pro bono), if not, then ask how much they would charge to represent you. Write down all of this information, make a copy and file it with the court. This will show how much money you would actually need to hire an attorney.

If trial court still won't appoint an attorney for you, any conviction would be very vulnerable on appeal because it would appear that your Constitutional right to counsel was denied, which would taint the conviction.

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