Frequently Asked Questions
Public Defender Definitions
Q. Why do we have Public Defenders?
A. Every person has the right to a fair trial. It is the law of our country that competent representation by an attorney is necessary to preserve this fundamental right. State and federal law provides that all persons have the constitutional right to be represented by an attorney if they have been accused of a crime and the punishment for that crime could be time in jail or prison. If that person is financially unable to hire an attorney, then the law provides that an attorney shall be appointed to represent them.
Q. What is a Public Defender?
A. A Public Defender is appointed by the Court to represent defendants in criminal court who are financially unable to hire an attorney for their case (i.e. “indigent”). All Public Defenders are attorneys who have been licensed to practice law in the state of South Carolina.
Q. What is an indigent defendant?
A. An indigent defendant is someone charged with a crime who is financially unable to hire an attorney. The Public Defender represents indigent defendants.
Who qualifies for a Public Defender?
Q. Who qualifies for a Public Defender?
A. South Carolina Code Section 17-3-10 states that a Public Defender will be appointed when “it is determined that the person is financially unable to retain counsel.” To qualify for the Public Defender, you must first go through a screening process where you complete a financial affidavit. If you qualify, a Public Defender will be appointed to represent you.
Q. How do I get a Public Defender?
A. Contact the Public Defender’s Office for the county where you have been charged with the crime. On the homepage for this website, click on “About SCCID” at the top of the banner on the left. Then click on “Public Defenders”, this will take you to a page that lists a contact office for each county. Contact that office for further information.
Q. I am working. Can I still qualify for the Public Defender?
A. That depends on your income and your entire financial situation. A number of factors are considered, including but not limited to: the number of people in your household, whether you own any real estate, or have money in the bank etc. All of these factors are weighed by the office that screens applications for the Public Defender. In most cases, this decision can also be appealed to the Court.
Q. Why do I have to pay a $40 application fee?
A. South Carolina Code Section 17-3-30 provides that a $40 application fee must be collected from every person who applies for the Public Defender. If the Court determines that the defendant is unable to pay the application fee, the Court can waive or reduce this fee.
Q. I have been charged with a crime in South Carolina but I live in another state. Can I have the Public Defender appointed to represent me?
A. Yes. The Public Defender is available to represent defendants charged with a crime in their county, regardless of where the defendant actually lives. Of course, the Public Defender is appointed to represent you after if has been determined that you are financially unable to hire a private attorney. In addition, you do not have to be a U.S. citizen to have the Public Defender appointed to represent you.
Q. How are Public Defenders paid?
A. Public Defenders are not paid directly by their clients. Public Defenders receive a salary and their salary is funded by money from the State and from your local county. Some of these funds are generated by fees that are attached to cases in the judicial system.
Q. How is the Public Defender different from other criminal defense attorneys?
A. Public Defenders are licensed attorneys who have the same qualifications as other criminal defense attorneys. The only difference is in how the attorney gets paid for his services. Criminal defense attorneys are hired by their clients to represent them in criminal court. This is a private, contractual relationship. Public Defenders are appointed to represent their clients and Public Defenders are paid a salary through public funds to represent criminal clients who cannot afford an attorney.
How Can a Public Defender Help Me?
Q. I have been charged with a crime and there are two other people who have been charged with the same crime. Can the Public Defender's Office represent all of us?
A. Yes. Normally, each client will be appointed to a different Public Defender. If your county has only one Public Defender, then local attorneys will be appointed to represent these other defendants.
Q. Can the same Public Defender ever represent two defendants who are charged with the same crime?
A. In some cases, the same Public Defender may represent more than one client for the same crime when that representation would not interfere with his duties of loyalty and confidentiality to either of his clients. However, the clients must give written, informed consent to this multiple representation.
Q. Can the Public Defender represent me in my divorce (or other civil case)?
A. No. The job of the Public Defender is to represent clients in criminal court. The South Carolina Centers for Equal Justice is a state-wide law firm with local offices that provide legal services in civil court for people who cannot afford an attorney. They can be contacted at (888) 346-5592.
Q. I have a friend who hired the local Public Defender to represent him in a worker's compensation case. Is this allowed?
A. A Public Defender’s job is to represent defendants in criminal court and every Public Defender is, of course, a licensed attorney. Some Public Defenders are full-time and do not take any private cases. However, some attorneys are part-time Public Defenders and also have a private practice where they handle all types of legal matters.
Q. I want to sue the police, the Solicitor's Office or the judge. Can the Public Defender represent me?
A. No. To sue someone, you must file your case in civil court. Public Defenders only represent defendants in criminal court.
Public Defender Case Types
Q. Does the Public Defender handle cases in juvenile court?
A. Contact your local Public Defender Office. Most Public Defender offices represent juveniles who have been charged with a crime in juvenile court and cannot afford to hire an attorney.
Q. Does the Public Defender handle probation revocation cases?
A. Contact your local Public Defender Office. Most Public Defender offices represent defendants who have a probation revocation hearing and cannot afford to hire an attorney.
Q. Does the Public Defender handle parole cases?
A. No. Public Defenders do not represent persons who are in prison and seeking release on parole. Public Defenders also do not represent persons on parole who have been charged with a parole violation. If you have a parole case, you need to hire a private attorney.
Q. Does the Public Defender represent people for non-payment of child support?
A. No. Child support is handled in family court and a person who has violated their child support order is charged with contempt of court. The Public Defender is not available to represent persons accused of non-payment of child support.
Q. I have a Post-Conviction Relief (PCR) case. Can the Public Defender's Office represent me?
A. No. If you cannot afford an attorney, then the Court will appoint an attorney to represent you. Your PCR is a civil case and Public Defenders represent defendants in criminal court.
Q. My case has already been tried and I want to file a criminal appeal. Will the Public Defender's Office be my attorney for this appeal?
A. No. The South Carolina Office of Appellate Defense is available to represent defendants who have already been convicted of a crime and who wish to appeal their conviction. See the homepage of this website and click on “Appellate Defense” in the banner on the left.
Q. I am the victim of a crime. Will the Public Defender represent me?
A. No, contact your local Solicitor’s Office. The Public Defender does not represent crime victims. The Public Defender only represents persons charged with committing a crime.