The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you free of cost. Unfortunately, you are not entitled to a Public Defender on a first offense D.U.I. even though it is a criminal case. The reason being is that you are not necessarily facing a jail sentence on a first D.U.I. The Supreme Court of the United States has determined that if your liberty or freedom is not at stake, then you are not entitled to a Public Defender. Since a first offense D.U.I. case carries a jail sentence of 0 up to 6 months, the fact that many people do not go to jail on their first offense is the reason they are not appointed a Public Defender. This is not to say that people who get a first offense D.U.I. never go to jail; it’s just that they are not necessarily facing jail which allows the Court to get around the Sixth Amendment and not have to appoint them a Public Defender if they cannot afford a lawyer.
This is not the case for a second D.U.I. which occurs within 5 years of the conviction of the first D.U.I. offense. These cases carry a minimum mandatory jail sentence of 10 days up to a maximum of 9 months in jail for a second offense. Therefore, since the person is facing at least 10 days minimum in jail, their freedom or liberty is at stake and if they can prove to the Court that they cannot afford a lawyer, then the Sixth Amendment kicks in and the Court must appoint them a Public Defender. Although recently, due to economic difficulties, some Courts are requiring a $40.00 administrative fee to be paid to the Public Defender’s Office for their representation.
Recently, the State of Florida passed a law that when the Public Defender’s office has a conflict or there is an overflow of cases, a second Public Defender’s office has been created which is referred to as Regional Counsel. When an additional conflict arises, then the Court appoints a private attorney to come in to assist. He is paid by the State of Florida at a reduced rate. In all of these scenarios, the person has to pay the $40.00 administrative fee.
The conflict arises when 2 or more people are arrested at the same time and they start talking against each other, creating a conflict where they cannot be represented by the same attorney. Just as a general rule, it makes more sense to have each person have their own attorney just in case a conflict arises later on, which often happens in criminal cases.
Therefore, if you cannot afford a lawyer offense D.U.I. and the Court is not appointing a lawyer, you will have to represent yourself or enter into a plea bargain to the first offense D.U.I. minimum mandatory penalty.