The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees defendants nine different rights. Arguably, one of the most important Sixth Amendment rights is the right to a criminal defendant. The Constitution states that a defendant has the right to legal counsel, and if they cannot afford one, the court must appoint a public defender. Together, these rights ensure that cases are treated fairly and that the outcome of a case isn’t affected by the resources a plaintiff or defendant has. However, do family courts appoint public defenders?

What Is a Public Defender?

During a trial, if the court deems a person unable to afford representation, they will appoint a public defender to legally represent them. Like other lawyers and attorneys, public defenders must go through rigorous education and testing to get a license. They must earn their undergraduate degree, take the LSAT, earn a law degree, pass the Bar exam, and take the MPRE exam as well. A court won’t appoint just anyone to represent you.

The tricky part is that you can’t simply go to court and say you can’t afford a lawyer. You must go through an evaluation in which the court deems you indigent, and these qualifications vary by state. If you are deemed indigent, then they will appoint a public defender to represent you, but if you’re not, then you’ll have to hire your own attorney.

Do Family Courts Appoint Public Defenders?

For the sake of simplicity, let’s divide court cases into three separate categories: civil, criminal, and capital. The original text of the Sixth Amendment stated that a criminal defendant has the right to legal counsel. Many years later, in 1932, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment also covers the following: “In a capital case, where the defendant is unable to employ counsel…it is the duty of the court, whether requested or not, to assign counsel for him.”

This ruling, and the original text of the Constitution, means that the Sixth Amendment covers criminal and capital cases—not civil cases. The law considers family cases as civil matters. Therefore, the court is not legally bound to appoint you a public defender. Ultimately, the answer is no; family courts do not appoint public defenders.

What Should You Do if You Can’t Afford Representation?

If you are struggling to afford representation in a civil case, you still have options. If you’ve ever heard of the Latin phrase “pro bono publico” or “pro bono,” it directly translates to “for the public good.” Many lawyers offer pro bono services where they will lower their costs for those in need or may even offer their services for free. You can also apply for legal aid in your state.

If you’re having trouble finding quality legal representation for your family case, contact Northern Legal today. We’ll put you in touch with one of our family law attorneys in Amarillo, Texas, who will work tirelessly to defend you and win your case.