Public Defender Frequently Asked Questions

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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 individual who screens applications for the Public Defender, along with State issued Indigence Guidelines. In most cases, this decision can also be appealed to the Court.

Q. I make too much money for the Public Defender but I cannot afford to hire a private attorney. What can I do?
A. If it is determined that you are financially able to hire an attorney but you still want the Public Defender to represent you, then the Public Defender can be appointed to your case. After your case is completed, the court will determine the amount of attorney’s fees that should be paid to the local Circuit Wide Office.

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. 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 and depending on the specific situation, each client will be appointed to a different Public Defender. The final determination on whether a Conflict of Interest is present and therefore requires conflict representation by the private bar or paid sub-contractors is made by the Circuit Wide 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. 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.

Q. I  received a notice that I have a Preliminary Hearing scheduled. What is a Preliminary Hearing?
A.  A Preliminary hearing is a hearing to determine whether probable cause existed to issue the arrest warrant or ticket. This hearing is not about your guilt or innocence or whether a witness is lying or telling the truth. The defense does not get to present any evidence at a preliminary hearing, but is allowed to ask questions. The Magistrate makes a determination on probable cause based on the evidence presented and the questions that are asked by the defense.

Q. When is the next term of General Session Court?
A.  All Terms of General Sessions Court are scheduled by SC Court Administration, and posted on the SC Judicial Department’s Website. To search the Court Calendar to determine when General Sessions will be held next in your County, click on this link, then choose Circuit No. 3.

Q. When I come to court, what should I wear?
A.   No shorts, cutoff jeans, slacks or trousers with holes, no tank tops, no halter tops, no see-through blouses or tops that expose a bare midriff are permitted in the courtroom.  T-shirts must not contain vulgar, profane or inflammatory slogans or pictures.  Bailiffs are required to enforce these rules, not being allowed to enter the courtroom due to one of the above items will not excuse you from court, the Judge will proceed in your absence.

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