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Is it possible to find pro bono or low income assistance for a criminal case ? State appointed attorney does not show up.

Rancho Cucamonga, CA |

I am writing on behalf of someone who is incarcerated. He has been in the county facility for over a year now. It is a criminal case and there are multiple people on the same case, seven originally. Two got out on a deal. Two are facing longer sentences and have a trial scheduled in a couple of months. The other three, they are currently trying to wait until after the trial of the main two, to offer them a "deal". Today they were supposed to negotiate that deal, but they pushed it back further and said no deals will be made at this time. The state appointed attorney only shows up to some of the court dates, and also never communicates with him. I can give more details if you contact me but the family does not have a lot of money for representation but something needs to be done...

Attorney Answers 4


Here is the dilemma. State appointed attorneys are very often difficult to access or communicate with because of their heavy case load that ultimately pays them very little for each individual case. The minimal amount paid per case provides little incentive to do very much on each individual case. If getting paid minimally on a case diminishes incentive, how motivated do you think a Pro Bono attorney will be, given that they are being paid even less for your case than the state appointed attorney? See the problem?

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The defendant can ask the court to review the actions of his appointed defense counsel if he states specific grievances. Failing to get the DA to negotiate a case is not an actionable grievance, but there are other potential grounds for removal of the appointed counsel here. This is called a "Marsden hearing," and would be held at the express request of the defendant.

Pro bono and/or reduced-cost attorney services are sometimes an option. This services are usually provided to defendants that have a compelling "hook". The hook can be a personal or prior relationship with the attorney, a claim that the prosecution is politically motivated or otherwise unjust, or a defendant that is unique in some way. When looking for a pro bono attorney, you need to provide a general description of the case and the issues involved. Based on your description, I'd guess that there are gang elements to the prosecution, but that's just an assumption since you provide virtually no information about the case. In addition to a description of the case and issues, you need to explain why pro bono services are warranted in this specific case and/or for this specific defendant.

While most criminal defense attorneys are dedicated to the cause of justice, and many are sympathetic to the complaints of indigent defendants, the reality is that pro bono work has a direct impact on the ability of private attorneys to pay their bills and feed their families. Defense work can be time consuming, financially draining, and mentally exhausting. While every defendant is worthy of a strenuous effort by their counsel, practical reality requires that the attorney receive adequate compensation for their efforts.

Any statements I make in these forums (fora?) should not be taken as direct legal advice, merely informed guidance. This is true due to the anonymous nature of this venue, and the incomplete information which is invariably provided by the questions. It is imperative that you consult directly with an attorney regarding your specific situation before acting on or relying on anything represented here. Period.

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Sure. There are many excellent private attorneys, in Rancho, Norco/ Corona, etc who will allow payments. Contact a few and find one that you feel comfortable representing your friend.

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As already indicated, a "Marsden Motion" may be the best bet. At the Marsden hearing the judge will hear directly from the defendant as to why he believes the attorney is providing ineffective assistance or acting in a way that constitutes malpractice or a conflict of interest. The judge will ask questions to determine whether he believes the attorney will be relieved and another one appointed. Most attorneys prepare very well for a Marsden motion as not to be reprimanded and told by the Judge that they are ineffective. While I have never been the subject of a Marsden hearing, I know that judges rarely grant the motion. If the judge denies the request then the client is stuck with that attorney, and at that point there can be even more strain on the attorney client relationship and it will be unlikely that the lawyer will give him any more time or attention than he was previously getting.

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