In both federal and state criminal cases and even some civil case, the law (thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court decision 55 years ago in Gideon v. Wainwright) affords defendants the right to representation by a criminal defense attorney – even for misdemeanors. It is only when the individual is unable to afford a defense lawyer that one is appointed for the defendant (i.e., a public defender). The question of whether one can afford a lawyer is answered by determining one’s “indigent” status.
The question of one’s indigent status is one many of us don’t give a second thought to, but it’s made front-page headlines of late because of the recent high-profile case of the questionable indigent status of accused Parkland school shooter Nicholas Cruz. The 20-year-old is accused of carrying out one of the deadliest mass school shootings in U.S. history, killing 17 students and teachers. He has reportedly confessed and faces the death penalty.
Initially, he was appointed a Florida public defender after being deemed indigent. However, Law.com now reports he is anticipating a $432,000 life insurance policy payout following the recent death of his mother. His Broward defense attorney is now seeking to be removed from the case, arguing state law prohibits service of public defenders for defendants with financial means to higher a private Florida criminal defense attorney. The lawyer, with 40 years of experience, pointed out the defendant is now wealthier than most of those serving on his defense team and he has never had a client with access to as much money as Cruz. The average public defender in Broward County earns about $62,000. Continue reading