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Can I Get a Public Defender After a DUI Arrest?

Feb. 10, 2021

Whether a public defender can be appointed in your case after a DUI arrest depends on a number of different factors, but the primary factor is your financial status at the time of the arrest. Public defenders are typically reserved for those individuals who cannot afford to hire an attorney on their own.

Many people mistakenly believe that all public defenders are working for the government and not willing to fight for their clients. That is not the case. Public defenders are dedicated attorneys who understand the legal system.

Who Can Get a Public Defender

In Virginia, the number of people who may be appointed a public defender to their case is limited. To be represented by a public defender, the person accused of a DUI offense must be "indigent."

Indigent means lacking the financial means to hire an attorney to represent you. In order to determine if a person is indigent, a court will require you to fill out a form that examines your finances. The court will look into your:

  • current assets;

  • government assistance you receive (if any);

  • net income;

  • savings and checking accounts;

  • cash on hand; and

  • medical and other expenses.

A person is presumed to be eligible if he or she is eligible for government assistance programs, such as food stamps, Medicaid, and supplemental security income (SSI).

The Public Defender Chart

Courts using the following chart to determine whether an alleged offender is eligible for a public defender.

Household Size:





2019 Average Funds (annually)





The number is determined by using the calculations from Form DC-333, which determines the financial situation of an alleged offender.

Limitations of Using a Public Defender

Public defenders may be free, but they come with certain limitations.

Lack of Choice

You do not get to choose your public defender. Lawyers are assigned by the court and through the internal assignment procedures at each individual public defender's office. This also means that you probably cannot change your public defender in the case that you do not get along or are unsatisfied with the attorney's work.

Contact an Experienced Virginia DUI Attorney

Even if you qualify for a public defender, you still have the right to hire the lawyer of your choice. Please contact my office about representing you. I can help you defend your rights. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case.