The Court Appointed Attorney Process

Written by Reynolds Defense Firm

On December 15, 2023

You’ve likely heard the Miranda warning a hundred times on television and in movies. Which means you’re probably familiar with the phrase “you have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you…”. This expression seems pretty straightforward – that every person charged with a crime has a right to have a lawyer represent them. While there is some truth to this concept, there are a few misconceptions that you might not be aware of. For starters, the determination of whether you truly ‘cannot afford an attorney’ is not up to you. 

Court Appointed Attorneys (“CAA”) 

While the Sixth Amendment states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall…have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense”, it wasn’t until 1963 that the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to counsel. However, the court left the details to the States to determine their own process for defendants to fully exercise that right. In every state, if you cannot afford to hire an attorney of your choice, you can ask the court to appoint you an attorney for “free.” But the qualifications and process for being granted a court-appointed attorney (aka public defender) differ greatly from state to state.  

So, what does this mean for you? What is the process for qualifying in Oregon? If you are qualified, when do you get to meet your CAA? Will they be available to help you through every step of the process? We called around to several State courts to learn the answers to these questions so that you can be better informed on whether hiring an attorney or obtaining a public defender is best for you. 

What is the application process for getting a CAA in Oregon? 

In Oregon, each court will provide you with the application for a CAA. As part of this application process, you will need to pay a $20 application fee and complete an “affidavit of eligibility” form. The form will ask you about your employment status, annual income, monthly expenses, legal dependents, and assets. Ultimately, a judge will decide if you are eligible for a court appointed attorney based on your financial situation. 

And several courts won’t allow you to complete the application process until you appear for your arraignment. This means that you won’t have the opportunity to talk with an attorney before your first court appearance, which in some jurisdictions can be months away. In some courts, we learned that this could also mean that you’ll have to handle your first appearance in front of the judge either on your own or with a stand-in attorney, pending the application process.  

On the other hand, when you hire Reynolds Defense Firm, we make sure you speak to your legal team within 24 hours. And we make sure there are no surprises when you show up to your arraignment. We take the time to go over the process with you, in detail, so you feel confident appearing in front of the judge with a reputable attorney by your side.  

Once I’m assigned a CAA, when do I get to meet or talk to them? 

Due to a statewide shortage of public defenders in Oregon, we learned that in some jurisdictions you could be waiting 3-4 weeks to meet with your CAA up to a couple of months. Additionally, because of the shortage, most public defenders have maxed out caseloads. This means that the attorney who is appointed to you might not be available to answer questions or help you through this trying time when you most need it. It’s not that they don’t want to—certainly they would like give every client 110%—but the reality of the situation is that the shortage has taken a hard toll on Oregon’s public defenders and their ability to thoroughly assist all of their clients. Even if you do get approved for a CAA, you will likely only be able to speak with your attorney briefly before your court appearances, if at all. 

Fortunately, we do not have a shortage of lawyers at Reynolds Defense Firm! And maintaining regular communication with our clients is the standard. We make sure you’ve had a chance to speak with your legal team prior to any court appearance. We also have weekly check ins with you throughout the duration of your matter, so you feel empowered and confident about what’s going on with your case every step of the way. Further, our legal team meets weekly to discuss every case that we have at the firm. They go over timelines, strategy, outcomes, status checks, court appearances, and outstanding items. This way, no matter what comes up with any case or with any one of our lawyers, every attorney knows what is going on so they can step in if needed and still provide the same great service and legal representation for our clients. 

Are there things that a CAA cannot help me with? 

If you have been arrested for a DUII, there are now potentially two separate entities that can have an effect on your driving privileges. The first is the Department of Motor Vehicles (the “DMV”) and the second is the court system. The DMV, after receiving notice that you have either failed or refused a breath, blood, or urine test can suspend your license anywhere from 90 days to multiple years. This suspension is separate and independent from whatever will happen with your DUI case in the criminal court system. Public defenders cannot help you with the DMV process as their scope of representation is limited to the criminal court proceedings.  

Additionally, you only have a 10 day window to request a DMV Hearing to contest the pending suspension. Typically, your CAA is appointed to you after the 10-day window has passed.  What this means is that if your license is important to you and you are interested in requesting a DMV Hearing to challenge a license suspension, you will need to hire another attorney to accomplish that, or you will need to represent yourself.   

Do I hire an attorney of my choice or go with a CAA? 

Reynolds Defense Firm is  a team of dedicated professionals committed to providing stellar legal services to folks in need. With our combined experience of over 100 years, we specialize in one area—representing good people facing DUI charges.  

Choosing a team like Reynolds Defense Firm over a public defender ensures a personalized and dedicated legal experience. Our commitment to understanding our clients’ unique situations is demonstrated by the time we take to invest in building meaningful relationships with them. Unlike public defenders who often face overwhelming caseloads, our firm prioritizes quality over quantity. We take the time to listen, learn, and understand our clients’ goals, tailoring our strategies to their specific needs. We pride ourselves on being readily available to address concerns, answer questions, and provide support whenever our clients need us. By choosing Reynolds Defense Firm, you are choosing a firm that values communication and compassion, ensuring a comprehensive and human-focused defense experience. 

Contact Reynolds Defense Firm

For more information, Call Reynolds Defense Firm at (503) 506-2886, or you can opt to contact us by using the online form or our 24/7 live chat service for your free consultation. Our team is happy to serve the State of Oregon and can help you figure out how to move forward from a place of strength. 

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