Most people end up in court because they have to go, not because they want to be there; either they are being charged with a crime or they cannot resolve a dispute. When going to court, the assistance of a good lawyer makes a big difference. Unfortunately, many people cannot afford to hire a lawyer. In certain types of cases, you have the right to ask the court to “appoint” or assign a lawyer to represent you who you do not have to pay.
In criminal cases, you have a right to a lawyer whenever you might receive any amount of jail or prison time. This generally means you have a right to a lawyer in every felony case and most misdemeanor cases, including traffic offenses, with the exception of minor misdemeanors. You will not usually have a lawyer appointed until the first time you appear before the judge; but, you do not have to speak to police without a lawyer present. You also generally have a right to a lawyer on your first appeal or at a hearing where you may be sent to jail for violating your probation or parole.
JUVENILE COURT CASES
Both parents and children have the right to lawyers in juvenile court proceedings. When a child is charged with committing a crime, he or she has a right to a lawyer. When Children and Family Services removes or attempts to take custody of children, the parents have the right to a lawyer and the children may also have a right to their own lawyer (in addition to a guardian ad litem).
CHILD SUPPORT CASES
A parent who may go to jail for failing to pay child support has a right to counsel at the “show cause” or “contempt” hearing. A parent is not, however, entitled to a lawyer when determining the amount of the child support payments.
OTHER CIVIL CASES
In a few other circumstances—generally where your liberty is at stake, you also have a right to a lawyer. If you are the subject of a guardianship, a civil commitment, or certain immigration proceedings (such as removal or asylum), you likely have a right to appointed counsel.
In most other civil cases, such as evictions or if you are sued by a creditor, you do not have a right to a court appointed lawyer. You can hire a lawyer to represent you, or apply for free legal assistance through the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, which may be able to help in some cases. Call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for assistance.
This article was written by Cuyahoga County Public Defender Cullen Sweeney and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!