Salt Lake City Criminal Defense Attorney

Utah Criminal Defendants Face Income Eligibility Requirements for Right to Free Counsel

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution contains many protections to those accused of crimes. In addition to the right to have a speedy trial and an impartial jury of one’s peers, criminal defendants also have the right to counsel of their choice. Specifically, if they are not able to afford an attorney, the state will provide a lawyer at no expense.

In a case called Powell v. Alabama, the court recognized the fundamental nature of having legal counsel in exercising due process in criminal cases. In another case, Johnson v. Zorbst, the Court established an absolute rule for indigent criminal defendants in federal court to have appointed counsel if they could not afford one. Gideon v. Wainright expanded the right to counsel to all felonies charged in state courts. Since then, the right to an attorney has been a cornerstone of the criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, not all individuals are given “free counsel” simply because they claim to be unable to afford an attorney. Utah criminal defense lawyers cannot stress this enough.

For example, an individual must meet a certain income level to be eligible for free public assistance in Utah. Essentially, if a defendant’s income is at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty levels established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, he or she will be eligible for a public defender.

For instance, a defendant in a household of three persons, where the annual income is $22,065 or less would be eligible for representation at no expense.

However, Utah is one of only two states in the U.S. that does not have a statewide public defense system, meaning that counties are responsible for funding lawyers for indigent clients. With declining tax revenues, public defense in Utah is under attack, with many counties reducing the funding allocated to defending indigent clients. For those deemed ineligible for a public defender, it is imperative to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.