In 2011, the Alabama Legislature established Indigent Defense Advisory Boards in each Judicial Circuit in the state. The purpose of those boards is to study and choose the method by which the Circuit will provide representation to people who are entitled to appointed counsel but who cannot afford to pay for private representation. Each board consists of three lawyers, the president of the local bar association and the presiding judge of the Circuit.
Each year the Board must inform the state of the method by which it will provide services. During the summer of 2012, the Jefferson County Indigent Defense Advisory Board for the Birmingham Division selected the Public Defender System for 2013. Later in the year, the Board selected its first Public Defender to establish and run the office. On January 2, 2013, The Jefferson County Public Defender’s Office was established by the Alabama Office of Indigent Defense Services.
“[R]eason and reflection require us to recognize that in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to us to be an obvious truth.”Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 344, 83 S. Ct. 792, 796, 9 L. Ed. 2d 799 (1963).
“[T]he right to counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment applies at the first appearance before a judicial officer at which a defendant is told of the formal accusation against him and restrictions are imposed on his liberty.”Rothgery v. Gillespie Cnty., Tex., 554 U.S. 191, 194, 128 S. Ct. 2578, 2581, 171 L. Ed. 2d 366 (2008).
The Jefferson County Public Defender’s Office provides services to clients in the Jefferson County Criminal Courts to people who cannot afford to retain counsel. Ability to pay for retained counsel is determined by the judge before the Office is appointed. The judge will determine if a person is eligible based on guidelines outlined below.
- Is the person involved in a judicial proceeding for which appointed counsel is required or allowed by the constitution or statute?
In criminal proceedings, a person is generally entitled to counsel if they are charged with an offense that could result in a period of incarceration. In family court proceedings, children are often appointed counsel to ensure that their interests are protected. In addition, parents whose parental rights are at risk are often entitled to counsel.
- Does the person meet the income requirements?
Income requirements are based on the Poverty Level Guidelines established by the Department of Health and Human Services. In general, to be eligible for services the individual’s income must be at or below 125% of the Poverty Level Guidelines. Individuals who have income greater than 125% of the Poverty Level but below 200% may also be eligible if the judge makes a written determination that paying for legal representation would result in substantial hardship. Individuals charged with a felony with income above 200% of the Poverty Level may be eligible if the judge makes a written determination that paying for legal representation would result in substantial hardship.