It depends on the courthouse but in San Diego, you speak with a public defender first. If you are need to plead 'not guilty' then they have you fill out a financial declaration. The court reviews the document and appoints you one on the spot. However, you will not meet this person until your next court date.
Hope that helped!
Thomas A. Schaeffer, Esq. Law Office of Juarez and Schaeffer PO Box 16216, San Diego, CA 92105 (619) 804-4327 www.jslaw.org This posting is provided for "informational purposes" only and should not be relied upon as "legal advice." Nothing transmitted from this posting constitutes the establishment of an attorney-client relationship. Applicability of the legal principals discussed here may differ substantially in individual situations or in different States.
You will usually not have an opportunity to speak with court appointed counsel until one is actually appointed. The appointment will happen on the date of arraignment. Most courts will automatically appoint counsel in felony cases where the defendant does not appear with a private attorney, although you may be evaluated for your ability to pay. In misdemeanor cases, the defendant is often asked to submit a financial declaration prior to appointment of counsel, in order to determine eligibility.
Once an attorney is appointed, you will be able to discuss your options with that person.
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.
In that Court, just ask. You MIGHT be asked how much money you make each month but the odds are you won't. At the end of the case, you will THEN likely be required to fill out a financial declaration and if you make enough money to pay, they will charge you. If you don't, you just have to pay the $50 appointment of counsel fee.