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Applying for a Public Defender


When charged with an indictable offense in New Jersey, all defendants are entitled to be represented by an attorney, whether or not they can afford one. For those who cannot afford an attorney, the court will provide what is known as the Uniform Defendant Intake, or “5A form.” This is the application for a public defender.

The form asks for information regarding a defendant’s residence, criminal history, employment history and financial status. It seeks to weigh the defendant’s income and assets against his expenses and debts to determine if the defendant meets the indigence standards to qualify for a public defender. The defendant also will be asked if he requires an interpreter and, if so, for what language.

Contrary to popular belief, the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender does not decide which applicants will be accepted for representation. That decision is made by the courts, based on the information provided on the 5A form.

Once the court has decided that a defendant qualifies for a public defender, the case is referred to the NJOPD Regional office in the county in which the case is to be heard. The Deputy Public Defender in charge of that Regional office will then assign an attorney to handle the case.

The New Jersey Office of the Public Defender is committed to providing the highest quality of legal representation to all clients assigned to the agency by the courts.