In what type of cases does the Commission provide attorneys?
The Commission is limited by law as to the types of cases on which it provides attorneys. The Commission provides attorneys to represent indigent persons in cases where the person has a right to an attorney under the Constitution, the North Dakota Century Code or North Dakota rules. These cases include felonies and misdemeanor cases brought in district court, post-conviction matters, some juvenile cases, and some civil cases where the court has determined that jail is a likely sanction if the allegations are proven correct (but then, only as to that portion of the matter dealing with the contempt issue). The Commission also provides attorneys in appeals of these matters.
The Commission does not provide attorneys in cases in which someone has not been charged or arrested or when there is no case pending before the court, federal cases, infractions (such as most traffic tickets and insufficient fund check cases), municipal cases, most civil cases (such as divorce, car accidents, landlord/tenant matters, and contract disputes), mental health civil commitments, civil commitments of sexually dangerous individuals, and administrative hearings.
How does a person apply for an attorney?
In order to qualify for indigent defense services provided by the Commission, the party has to show the court that he or she is indigent. To do this, the party will fill out an application form with the party's financial information, and give it to the local clerk of court. The court will then make a determination as to whether the party is indigent. If the party disagrees with the court's determination, the party can submit additional information and ask the court to reconsider.
What does it mean to be "Indigent"?
A person will generally be found to be indigent if his or her income is less than 125% of the federal poverty guidelines, and if his or her assets do not exceed $20,000. We have a chart with income guidelines showing how much a person, or family, could have as income in a year in order to qualify for indigent defense services. The court, in making a determination of indigency, will consider more factors than just income and assets; for instance, the nature/severity of the charge, and extra-ordinary expenses being paid by the person.
Once I am assigned an appointed attorney, what is next?
You should be getting an assignment form showing your attorney's name and phone number. That attorney will be contacting you; however, feel free to call the attorney. You should make sure to keep your attorney up to date on your contact information such as cell phone number, correct address, and email address. The attorney cannot help you if he/she cannot find you.
Do I have the right to pick which attorney I want?
No, the attorney will be assigned to you by the Commission on Legal Counsel for Indigents. We try to assign the same attorney in a case where a client had an attorney in a previous matter related to the present case, but the client cannot choose who they desire to represent them. Who ends up being assigned as an attorney depends a great deal on who is available at that given time.
Will I have to repay the State or my attorney for legal services?
That depends. At the conclusion of your case, the court may order you to pay a portion or all of the fees and expenses, if the court determines that you have the ability to pay some amount. Many times the Judge will set up a payment schedule and let the party know he or she has a right to contest the payment of the attorney fees based upon his or her lack of financial ability to make the payments. Each year the commission sets a presumed rate of reimbursement. The court may order that this amount be paid for repayment of attorney fees.
What if the Commission cannot provide an attorney to represent me?
If you are not indigent, or the type of case is one in which the Commission does not provide services, there are other agencies you may wish to contact to see if they can provide assistance. Legal Services of North Dakota provides civil legal services for low income and elderly people. LSND's phone number is 1-800-634-5263 (seniors may call 1-866-621-9886). The State Bar Association of North Dakota Volunteer Lawyer Program provides reduced fee and pro bono services in some situations. SBAND's phone number is 701-255-1404. The Attorney General's office enforces the state's consumer fraud laws in connection with the sale or advertisement of merchandise. The AG's Consumer Protection Division can be reached at 701-328-3404. There is also the North Dakota Legal Self Help Center, 701-328-1852, NDSelfHelp@nd.courts.gov. This agency does not provide legal advice or tell a person what to do on any given matter, but it can attempt to answer questions about the legal process and guide a person on how to find state laws, rules and regulations.