Indigent Defense

Defendant FAQs


Nothing on this page is intended as or should be interpreted as legal advice. This information is for reference purposes only, and it may not apply to your specific case. For answers to questions regarding your case, contact your attorney.

  • What is indigent criminal defense?

    "Indigent" means "poor, needy, impoverished." Indigent Criminal Defense is a legal term for defending poor people who are charged with a crime. The MIDC is appointed with the task of improving indigent criminal defense in the State of Michigan.

  • Are public defenders or appointed lawyers real attorneys?

    Yes. They attended law school and passed the Michigan bar exam just like retained or "paid" attorneys. Some highly skilled attorneys choose to become public defenders because they can specialize in criminal law and devote a great deal of time to practicing their profession in the courtroom.

  • How do you decide who gets an attorney?

    In non-criminal or "civil" cases, you do not have the right to a free lawyer. In criminal cases, a defendant is "rebuttably presumed" to be indigent if that individual falls into one of these five (5) categories:

    1. receives personal public assistance
    2. earns a net income less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines
    3. is currently serving a sentence in a correctional institution
    4. is less than 18 years of age, and/or
    5. is receiving residential treatment in a mental health or substance abuse facility.

    If a defendant doesn't fall into one of those five (5) categories, factors that have to be considered include net income, property owned by defendant, basic living expenses, other current monthly expenses, outstanding debts, the number and ages of defendant's dependents, employment and job training history, and their level of education. In addition, the seriousness of the charges, if the defendant has other pending cases, and whether the defendant is contributing to the support of someone other than a dependent are also considered.

  • For which cases/courts do you appoint attorneys?

    The Indigent Defense Administration office within Kent County appoints attorneys for the following case types at these specific courts:

    • 63rd District Court - misdemeanors and felonies
    • 17th Circuit Court - felonies, investigative subpoenas, and PPO violations
    • 61st, 62A, 62B, and 59th District Courts - felonies only (misdemeanor case appointments in these district courts are handled by a different agency)
  • Who makes attorney appointments?

    The indigent defense administration office within Kent County makes attorney appointments. This office is completely independent from the judiciary. The Court cannot decide which attorneys are appointed. The Court can inform people of their right to counsel, decide whether someone is indigent, and refer a defendant to the indigent defense administration office.

  • I am fighting to get custody of my kids. Can you appoint me a lawyer?

    No - the Kent County Indigent Defense Administration office can only appoint attorneys to represent indigent people facing misdemeanors, felonies, personal protection order (PPO) violation hearings, and investigative subpoenas. We do not appoint attorneys to help with landlord-tenant, small claims, divorce cases, child custody cases, or other civil cases.

  • I need to get some old criminal convictions expunged. Can my public defender do that for me?

    No - Your attorney can only help you with current criminal charges. Seeking to have convictions wiped from your record is a separate process. The State of Michigan has a website where free expungement events are listed throughout the state. More information about the specific rules relating to expungement can be accessed here.

  • I didn't qualify for an appointed attorney, but I can't afford to hire one. What do I do?

    Keep in mind that you are only entitled to an appointed attorney if you are charged with a misdemeanor for which you might get a jail/probation sentence OR a felony. If a judge knows that they will only sentence you to fines or community service, you are not entitled to an appointed attorney.

    First, make sure that you filled out (or one was done for you) an Affidavit of Indigency or Determination of Indigency form. Sometimes, those forms are filled out for you by jail staff or by attorneys. Be sure that it accurately reflects how much money you make and how much you owe (it should include mortgage, rent, utilities, debts, car payments, insurance, child care - basically all essential obligations/bills) on a monthly basis.

    Second, if you've tried hiring an attorney and still cannot afford one, bring the names of the attorneys you talked to AND the fees they quoted you to your next hearing. The judge can reconsider your indigency status at any time during your case.

    Third, if you still aren't indigent, or if your case doesn't fall into the felony/jailable crime categories, use these resources:

  • How do felony cases progress through the courts?

    All felony cases start off in one of Kent County's District Courts. The District Courts are also where all misdemeanor cases are handled:

    • Arraignment
    • Probable Cause Conference (also called a pre-exam conference)
    • Preliminary Examination (also called a Probable Cause Hearing)
    • Bind over to Circuit Court
    • Circuit Court arraignment
    • Pre-trial conferences or Status conferences
    • Plea Hearings (if you decide you want to plead guilty or nolo contendere) or Trial
    • Sentencing
  • How can I help my case?
    • Never discuss your case with anyone other than your lawyer or anyone your lawyer instructs you to speak with. Most importantly, keep in mind that ALL CALLS AT THE JAIL ARE RECORDED AND MAY BE USED AGAINST YOU IN COURT.
    • Make sure your attorney AND the court have your updated address and phone number at all times.
    • Do not file motions with the court on your own behalf or send letters to anyone about your case as they may be used against you at trial.
    • Be on time for court.
    • Dress appropriately for court - dress as if you're going to a job interview. The clothes people wear to court subconsciously influence and impact how you are viewed by the judge.
  • What is an arraignment?

    An arraignment is a court hearing where you will be informed of the charges against you and the maximum penalty for those charges. You will be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the charges. An attorney will represent you at arraignment and will explain your constitutional rights and the process to you. If you plead not guilty, hearings will be set depending on the type of case you're charged with.

    In general, you should plead not guilty at your arraignment, if you have not already done so, to allow your attorney time to investigate your case and any possible defenses.

  • What is a probable cause conference?

    Sometimes referred to as a PCC, it is the first hearing in a felony case and is typically scheduled within a week of the arraignment. The court will schedule a time for the prosecutor and the defendant or his or her attorney to discuss the case. The prosecutor usually makes a plea offer to all, some, or reduced charges, depending on the case. The PCC is the first opportunity to meet your attorney and discuss possible defenses, and therefore, it's very important to attend this hearing.

  • What is probable cause?

    Probable cause is a complicated and abstract standard that requires more than a mere suspicion that a crime was committed, i.e., that it's more likely than not that the defendant committed the specific crime charged. Although the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that "no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause," it does not define what "probable cause" actually means. The Supreme Court of the United States has recognized that probable cause is a concept that is vague, fluid, and very dependent on context. In Illinois v. Gates (a famous Supreme Court case), the Court favored a flexible approach, viewing probable cause as a "practical, non-technical" standard that calls upon the "factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men [...] act." Courts often take a broader, more flexible view of probable cause (meaning that judges may be more likely to find probable cause exists) when the alleged crimes are serious.

  • What is a preliminary examination?

    This hearing is in front of the District Court Judge and must be scheduled within 21 days of the arraignment unless the parties agree to a delay (also called an adjournment). In many cases, the preliminary examination is what the public thinks of when they think of a court hearing (e.g. witnesses taking the stand, being sworn in, testifying, cross examination, etc.).

    Using a probable cause standard, the Prosecutor must show that a crime was committed, and that the defendant committed it. If the Judge determines there is probable cause (see question above "What is probable cause?""), the defendant is bound over to the Circuit Court for further proceedings. After consulting their attorney, a defendant may decide to waive the preliminary examination and be sent directly to the Circuit Court.

  • What is bind over/bound over?

    When felony cases move from District Court to Circuit Court, they are "bound over."" Felony cases are bound over when a judge finds that there is probable cause (1) that a felony crime was committed, and (2) that the defendant was the person who committed that crime. After bind over, all future hearings will occur in the 17th Circuit Court, which is located in downtown Grand Rapids.

  • What is a conflict of interest?

    A "conflict of interest" occurs when an attorney (or office of attorneys) cannot represent a client due to their duty of loyalty to another client. For example, two defendants are charged with a crime. Defendant 1 is already represented by the Public Defender's Office when Defendant 2 requests an attorney. The Public Defender's Office cannot represent both Defendant 1 and Defendant 2 as their defenses may be in conflict with one another. If you are eligible for an appointed attorney but a conflict of interest is found, you will be appointed a different attorney.

  • I missed my court hearing. What do I do?

    Immediately contact your lawyer and follow his or her instructions.

  • I don't like my lawyer. How do I get a new one?

    First, try scheduling an in-person meeting with your attorney to discuss your concerns. Sometimes concerns can be addressed with a simple conversation. If that does not work, you will have to ask the judge for substitute counsel to be appointed to your case, which the judge may or may not do. If you have concerns about your attorney's representation of you, raise those in front of the judge at your first opportunity. However, keep in mind that not liking your attorney is not a valid reason to get a new attorney - there must be a reasonable basis why your attorney is not providing competent and effective representation.

  • How do I get in touch with my lawyer?

    There are several ways to contact your attorney. When you were appointed an attorney, you should have received a piece of paper called a Notice of Attorney Appointment Determination that lists your attorney's name, phone number, and email address. If you still cannot make contact with your attorney, you should email You should also contact the court where your case is pending to make sure you know exactly when your next court date is, and you should make sure you show up to your next court date, even if your attorney hasn't been in touch with you.

  • Would it help my case if I offered my appointed lawyer some extra money so that they fight harder for me?

    NO - That would NOT help your case. Attorneys who take indigent defense cases are not ethically permitted to accept money from their clients.

  • I have charges in other counties and/or federal court. Can my lawyer in Kent County help with those?

    No. Your appointed attorney can only represent you regarding your Kent County state criminal case(s). In some cases, your attorney can help you get in contact with other courts or attorneys, especially if doing so benefits your Kent County case. Be sure you tell your attorney in Kent County of any pending charges anywhere else in the country.

  • I have misdemeanor charges in the 61st district court and in Kentwood. Why can't my attorney I already have on my felony charges represent me on those other misdemeanors?

    There are three different offices responsible for making sure indigent defendants are appointed attorneys. Because of funding structures and agreements with the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission, our office can only appoint attorneys on specific cases arising in specific courts.

    • For misdemeanors in Wyoming (62A), Kentwood (62B), and Walker/Grandville (59th), court appointed attorney requests are processed by Paul Van Gessel, the indigent defense administrator for those three district courts. He can be reached at or 616-306-8672.
    • For misdemeanors in the 61st Grand Rapids District Court, all indigent defense attorney appointments are processed through their indigent defense office. For more help with a misdemeanor in 61st, contact Jessica VanSolkema at or 616-456-4694
    • For all other cases (all felonies from all courts, misdemeanors from the 63rd district court, PPO violations, Investigative Subpoenas, etc.), the Kent County Indigent Defense Administration is the point of contact. We can be reached at or at 616-632-7571.
  • Where is my court? How do I contact the court?

    Always try reaching your attorney BEFORE contacting the court with any questions about your case.

    • 17th Circuit Court - Downtown Grand Rapids
      180 Ottawa Ave. NW (corner of Ottawa and Lyon)
      Circuit Court Clerk: (616) 632-5480
      Phone numbers and emails for specific judges can be accessed here
    • 63rd District Court - East Beltline/Knapp
      1950 East Beltline NE
      Main: (616) 632-7770
    • 61st District Court - Downtown Grand Rapids (same building at 17th Circuit Court)
      180 Ottawa Ave. NW
      Criminal matters: (616) 632-5525
    • 62A District Court - Wyoming
      2650 DeHoop Ave. SW (just behind Wyoming City Hall)
      Criminal matters: (616) 257-9814
    • 62B District Court - Kentwood
      4740 Walma Ave. SE
      Criminal matters: (616) 554-0711
    • 59th District Court(s) - Walker and Grandville
      • Grandville
        • 3161 Wilson Ave. SW, Grandville, MI 49418
        • (616) 538-6990
      • Walker
        • 4343 Remembrance Road NW, Walker, MI 49534
        • (616) 453-5765