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Public Defender Legal Aid Eligibility New York

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for my New York Criminal Case?

If you’ve been arrested or given a desk appearance ticket, one of the first things you may wonder is “do I need to hire a lawyer?”  Whether you can get a free (court appointed lawyer) in your New York Criminal Case depends greatly on your financial circumstances.  In 1963, the Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright said that individuals charged with a felony who cannot afford a lawyer must have one appointed.  In 1965, the Court of Appeals in People v. Witenski applied this to New York and expanded it to misdemeanors, if you qualify.  New York taxpayers have long resisted paying for a lawyer for poor New Yorkers accused of a crime but this changed in the 1960s.  After the Wainwright and Witenski decisions, the State has struggled to determine eligibility which caused some people who were wealthy to receive a public defender but others who were poor to be forced to hire an attorney.  A fairer solution was needed.  In April, 2016, the State of New York issued the following eligibility guidelines.

I got arrested in New York. Do I need to hire a lawyer?

  1. Consider how many assets you have (stocks, bonds, property)
  2. Consider your income and take a look at the chart below

Do I need to hire a lawyer? Take a look at this chart.


For more on eligibility for a public defender in New York including forms, click here.

Criminal Laws NY

Criminal Laws NY