If you are undecided about applying for a public defender or hiring a private attorney, you should consider the following:
What are the differences between a public defender and a private attorney?
Both a Georgia public defender and private attorney are licensed to practice law in Georgia. There are, however, things that a private attorney can do for you that a public defender is not legally authorized to do.
Administrative License Suspension (“ALS”) Hearing:
First, when you are charged with a DUI, there is a legal process called an Administrative License Suspension (“ALS”) Hearing. In this hearing, the Georgia Department of Driver Services (“DDS”) attempts to administratively suspend your license. This is how it works: after you are arrested for a DUI, DDS suspends your driver's license after 30 days.
You halt the suspension process by filing an appeal letter within 10 business days of your arrest. This letter is crucial if you want to keep your license.
If you do not file a 10-Day Letter, The Georgia DDS will suspend your license on the 31st day following your arrest. If you refused the State Administered Testing (which is called a “refusal case”), your license will be suspended for a year, and you will not qualify for a limited or restricted license.
At this hearing, your attorney can argue potential defenses, which include (but are not limited to):
- Your implied consent warning was read incorrectly.
- The implied consent warning was not timely read.
- The arresting officer or other present officers provided information contrary to the advice and meaning of the implied consent warning.
- The officer read you an incorrect warning for you age or license status.
- The arresting officer failed to designate which test he wanted.
- You rescinded your refusal, or agreed to a test only to have the officer say it was too late to take the test.
- The officer did not accommodate your request for an independent test.
- The roadblock was unconstitutional.
- You were considered “in custody” for Miranda Warning purposes.
A public defender will not represent you at an ALS hearing. Public Defenders are only available for particular criminal proceedings, and ALS hearings are a civil matter because driving is a privilege, not a right.
At your Arraignment, which is when the judge will read the formal charges against you, the judge will ask if you have an attorney or if you would like to apply for a court-appointed attorney.
If you meet the financial qualifications, which are listed below, a Public Defender would be assigned to your case.
Private attorneys, on the other hand, can take on your case as soon as you are arrested. The benefit of this is that your attorney has more time to work on your case and can resolve it sooner. He will also be more prepared to handle your case.
Most private attorneys have a case load that is a fraction of those carried by a public defender. As a result, private attorneys have more time to work on your individual case and be more attentive to your concerns and needs.
Do I Qualify for a Public Defender?
When you go to court, you can only be assigned a public defender if you ask for one and if you meet the qualifications.
To qualify, you must be considered “indigent” according to Federal poverty guidelines. You will have to complete a sworn affidavit listing your income and assets.
The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council defines “net income” as: “wages, salaries, tips, retirement, and pension income, income from self-employment (less expenses), welfare or other government transfer payments, veteran's benefits, housing allowances, transportation allowances, unemployment and strike benefits, stipends, grants, alimony, annuity, investments, and trust income, and cash received from any source, less taxes, court-ordered payments, and unusual but necessary living expenses.”
For more information on Guidelines for Applicant Qualifications:
What should I bring when I Apply For a Public Defender?
When you go to the Public Defender's Office you will be required to bring the following:
A $50 money order or cash (exact amount) for the application fee. This fee is non-refundable, which means that if you do not qualify the application fee will not be returned.
Proof of income (copy of most recent pay check or notarized statement from employer). If you are unemployed, provide notice of separation, copy of last tax return, and/or unemployment benefits statement. If you are self-employed, bring a copy of your last tax return. If you are receiving any type of government assistance (welfare, social security, disability, etc.), bring a copy of your latest check stub or paperwork showing your monthly benefits.
A valid picture I.D. (Example: State I.D. or driver's license, school I.D. or Work I.D.)
Note that Public Defender Offices vary among jurisdictions, so you should call the specific office in the county in which you were charged to make sure you have all required documentation.
Whether you decide apply for a public defender or hire a private attorney, you should take your DUI charge seriously. If you have been charged with DUI in Metro-Atlanta or DUI in North Georgia, contact Atlanta DUI Lawyer Richard Lawson as soon as possible. He is a former DUI Prosecutor who has devoted himself to DUI Defense throughout Georgia. Call now; your case will not defend itself.