What does it mean to be 'indigent' In 2015, the United States Department of Health and Human Services published the guidline required to be impoverished. Iowa uses this guideline to determine whether a Defendant is entitled to court-appointed counsel in a criminal case.
'This doesn't resolve questions about whether a Defendant should hire his or her own attorney. That's a personal decision'
Crowded House: Every day in the Linn County district and district associate court, the criminal docket is filled eighty to ninety percent with cases that are represented only by the public defender. It begs the question: are the police arresting only poor people?
The Department of Health and Human Services uses two measures—the “guidelines” and the “threshold”— to determine whether a family and their dependents are “impoverished.” According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the “poverty guidelines . . . are issued each year in the Federal Register by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The guidelines are a simplification of the poverty thresholds for use for administrative purposes.” Dept. Health and Human Services website explanation of poverty guidelines (available at http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines)(last visited September 22, 2015).
So, for example, a criminal defendant who is charged with, say, Operating While Intoxicated—First Offense, and lives alone, may not make more than $13,962.50 gross yearly income to be automatically eligible for court appointed counsel.
However, the Court also has the discretion to appoint counsel if income is between 125% and 200% of the Guideline if “the court makes written finding that not appointing counsel on the pending case would cause the person substantial hardship.”
This doesn’t resolve questions in Defendants’ minds as to whether they are best served hiring their own attorney or sticking with court-appointed counsel. That is a personal decision. I have previously written here that a defendant who can afford to hire his or her own attorney should do so. It leaves precious resources to those who cannot afford it and it allows a Defendant to choose his or her own attorney so that time isn’t wasted fretting over whether defense counsel is “in your corner.” While any such questions are likely idle, if a criminal defendant doesn’t trust his or her court-appointed counsel, there may be a breakdown in the relationship that substantially affects communication and, thus, the quality of the defense. This isn’t necessarily the defense counsel’s fault—but the dynamic still may exist.
If you or a loved one has been arrested for a criminal charge in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, Vinton, Anamosa, Linn, Johnson, Black Hawk, Benton, Jones, or other Iowa counties, please contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC for a free ½ hour initial consultation. Become an informed legal consumer. Remember that a blog is not legal advice and that no attorney-client relationship is established by sending information to an attorney over the Internet.
A person is entitled to an attorney appointed by the court if he or she has an income level “at or below 125% of the United States poverty level as defined by the most recently revised poverty income guidelines published by US Department of Health and Human Services (see figure 1) unless the Court decides that the Defendant’s other assets, including cash, stocks, bonds, or other property are sufficient to apply to criminal defense given the seriousness of the charge and nature of the case.
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