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How Do I Find a Public Defender in Columbia SC?

Date: April 12, 2022
How Do I Find a Public Defender in Columbia SC? 1

Under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, all criminal defendants have the right to legal representation. This means that if you’re involved in a criminal case and cannot afford a lawyer, you may be appointed a public defender to advise and represent you (free of charge).

If you’re facing criminal charges in Columbia, SC and are concerned about the cost of hiring a lawyer, obtaining a public defender may be an appropriate course of action. So, in this article, we’ll be addressing some key considerations to take into account when seeking a public defender in Columbia, SC, including:

  • How to find a public defender in Columbia, SC
  • Qualifying to receive a public defender in South Carolina
  • Should you use a public defender or private attorney?

How to Find a Public Defender in Columbia, SC

To begin the process of obtaining a public defender in Columbia, SC, you can contact the Richland County Public Defender’s Office (see contact information below). You can still qualify to receive a public defender even if you’re in jail. However, it should be noted that qualification is not automatic.

Contact information for the Richland County Public Defender’s Office:

Telephone: (803) 765-2592

Office Hours:

8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Website: www.richlandcountysc.gov/Government/Courts-and-Judicial-System/Public-Defender 

To determine eligibility, a judge or official will assess your income level, assets, debt, household size, and other relevant factors — as well as the crime you’ve been charged with. Once your eligibility has been confirmed, you may then have a public defender assigned to you.

Qualifying to Receive a Public Defender in South Carolina

As mentioned above, your eligibility to receive a public defender in South Carolina depends on several factors (primarily related to your financial circumstances). To better understand what that entails, we can start by referring to Section 17-3-10 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, which states:

Any person entitled to counsel under the Constitution of the United States shall be so advised and if it is determined that the person is financially unable to retain counsel then counsel shall be provided upon order of the appropriate judge unless such person voluntarily and intelligently waives his right thereto. The fact that the accused may have previously engaged and partially paid private counsel at his own expense in connection with pending charges shall not preclude a finding that he is financially unable to retain counsel.

In this excerpt, we see that, in order to receive a public defender:

  • It must be determined that you are financially unable to afford a lawyer.
  • A judge’s order is required for a public defender to be appointed to you.

In South Carolina, public defenders are typically reserved for people whose income falls below the Federal Poverty Line. However, judges can grant exceptions at their discretion.

To apply for a public defender, you’ll need to submit an affidavit that declares your assets and affirms your financial inability to hire a lawyer. There’s a $40 application fee to submit this affidavit, although it’s possible to have this fee waived if you cannot afford it.

Should You Use a Public Defender or Private Attorney?

Choosing your legal representation is a very important decision — one that can have a profound impact on the outcome of your case. To help inform your decision, here are some notable pros and cons to keep in mind when weighing the option of using a public defender or a private attorney:

Public Defender Advantages & Disadvantages

The main advantage of working with a public defender is the fact that you won’t pay a fee for their services. For this reason, a public defender often seems like the best option to those with financial constraints — and some may feel it’s their only option.

That being said, public defenders often have very heavy caseloads — and this can detract from the time and energy they’ll be able to dedicate to your particular case. Furthermore, since public defenders are assigned, you won’t be able to choose which one you’ll work with.

Private Attorney Advantages & Disadvantages

Private attorneys often have lighter caseloads than public defenders, which can equate to more time spent on each individual client or case. This additional time can be used for 1-on-1 meetings, research, and other activities that could potentially benefit your case.

Private attorneys also tend to have access to more resources (e.g. paralegal staff, funds to hire expert witnesses and labs, etc.) — which can allow them to be more efficient and effective. However, this all comes at a cost. Unlike public defenders, private attorneys charge fees for their services.

At Bernstein & Bernstein, we’ve been helping people since 1943. We understand that criminal charges are daunting — and you may feel that you cannot afford a lawyer. In addition to providing criminal defense services as a part of our standard practice areas, our firm regularly works with local government to provide free legal services for criminal cases. We’re here to asses you however we can. If you need a lawyer in Columbia, SC but are worried about the cost, give our office a call or contact us to learn more about how we can help you.