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Many people ask the question, or at least think of it: should I get a public defender for my case? The best thing to do before getting too engulfed in the thought is figure out if you are deemed financially eligible for a public defender. Every county court in Minnesota has application forms to apply for a public defender. Further information is available on the Board of Defense’s website, such as how to ask for a public defender and how to contact a specific county’s office.

If you are financially eligible for a public defender, then you should strongly consider it. Some of the best criminal defense lawyers in the state are public defenders. They often know their county court systems inside and out, including prosecutors, judges, and court staff. Having worked as a certified student attorney for a local public defender’s office in law school, I got to see firsthand just how competent and hardworking public defenders can be.

The biggest hurdle that the overwhelming majority of public defenders face is their massive workload. Some public defenders will readily admit that the amount of cases they are responsible for is borderline malpractice. Being able to pay enough attention to each client and spend enough time on every case is often impossible for public defenders. But the ones that can pull it off are the lawyers that garner incredible respect.

If you are not financially eligible for a public defender, then the answer is easy: talk to a private criminal defense attorney about possible representation. Most, including us, provide free consultations. Before you determine that you cannot afford a private attorney, talk to one. Just talking to a lawyer about your options and getting some guidance on your case can alleviate anxiety about maneuvering the criminal justice system.

If you are charged with a crime, the least advisable option is to neither apply for a public defender nor talk to a private attorney, especially when facing an offense that could incarcerate you. If you are having chest pains, would you seek medical help? If you broke your arm, would you attempt to fix it on your own? The same holds true for criminal charges. Some may require a band-aid, others may warrant open-heart surgery. If the remedy is not blatantly obvious, talk to a lawyer.

Robert H. Ambrose is a criminal defense attorney in the twin cities. He represents individuals charged with crimes in state and federal court. He is a Top 40 Under 40 Trial Lawyer; was named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers; and a “Ten Best” Under 40 Criminal Attorney for Client Satisfaction. St. Paul MN Criminal Defense Lawyer; Drug Crimes Attorney Minnesota; Criminal Lawyer St. Paul.

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