Go to navigation Go to content
Toll-Free: (888) DUI-LWYR
Phone: (703) 361-6100
The Wilson Law Firm

Can I get a Public Defender or Court Appointed Attorney to represent me on my criminal case in Virginia?

Maybe.  Only indigent persons are entitled to have a lawyer appointed at the expense of the Commonwealth, and Virginia has a strict formula for determining eligibility for appointed counsel.  In Virginia, you are required to fill out a financial questionnaire regarding your assets, under oath and penalty of perjury, which will be used in the determination regarding eligibility for appointed counsel. 

Some jurisdictions in Virginia have a Public Defender office and other jurisdictions do not.  Jurisdictions which do not have a Public Defender office have a list of private lawyers who have agreed to be appointed to represent indigent criminal defendants.  So, if you are found to be eligible for appointed counsel in Virginia, you may get a Virginia Public Defender or a private Court Appointed lawyer.  Virginia Public Defender offices are government offices staffed by government employees who are paid by Virginia - just like the people working in the Commonwealth Attorney's office.  Virginia Public Defenders are paid a salary and will handle every case involving an indigent criminal defendant unless there is a conflict of interest - as in cases where there are multiple defendants arising out of a single incident.  I think it's fair to say that our Virginia Public Defenders are overworked and underpaid. 

On the other hand, private Virginia Court Appointed lawyers are not government employees, but rather lawyers who work in the private sector and have agreed to represent indigent criminal defendants in Virginia for embarrassingly low compensation.  For example, a private Court Appointed Lawyer who handles a Class 1 misdemeanor criminal case in the General District Court will routinely be paid only $120.00.  If you think that's bad - consider this:  a private Court Appointed Lawyer who handles a murder case, for which the client might receive a sentence of imprisonment for life, may be paid as little as $1,500 - and can be paid no more than $2,325.00.  As you may have guessed from seeing those numbers, Virginia has long been at or near the bottom of the list in terms of state compensation for Court Appointed Counsel.   

If you are accused of an offense for which you could be sentenced to jail and you would like to be represented by appointed counsel in Virginia - whether a Virginia Public Defender or a private Virginia Court Appointed Attorney - you will need to go to the court and provide the necessary financial information to see if you qualify for appointed counsel in Virginia. 

Of course, understanding the seriousness of the situation and the possible life changing consequences, you may decide to do whatever it takes to hire the lawyer of your choosing.