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Eligibility For Public Defender

By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - A Florida man, already serving 19 years in jail for child pornography now potentially faces another 5 years for perjury because he lied about not being able to afford an attorney and hid assets in order to get a court appointed lawyer.

If you've gone to law school - or the equivalent, watched enough crime dramas on tv - you know that if you're in custody or charged with a crime, you have the right to an attorney. And, if you can't afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.

But what does that really mean?

Lawyers are expensive, so who can really afford one? And who determines if you can't? The answer is different depending on your state, but in virtually every state you have to fill out an affidavit of financial status. In most states, you can't earn more than 125% above the federal poverty line. Some courts require you to provide financial documentation of your inability to pay, others may take you at your word.

And, while one could argue that a court might not want to take a child pornographer's word for it, you can bet that guy is rethinking his decision to lie in order to get a free lawyer who couldn't get him off of the charges rather than using the dollars he hid to pay for one he now needs to defend himself against the perjury.

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