Apply for a Lawyer

If you are charged with a criminal offense in Nashville, we strongly recommend that you get a lawyer to represent you in court. A criminal conviction – even for a minor offense – can cause problems you never imagined and have serious lifelong consequences. Your lawyer is the only person who is required to look out for your interests in court, and you have a constitutional right to an appointed attorney if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer.

If you were arrested on a warrant or if you received a criminal citation, you may qualify for the Public Defender’s Office to represent you. We also help people with other issues that arise in the criminal justice system when they cannot afford a lawyer:

  • Have you been served with a probation violation?
  • Do you think there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest in Nashville?
  • Have you missed a court date on your criminal case?
  • Are you unable to pay the court costs on your criminal case and risk losing your driver’s license because of it?
  • Have you been asked to speak to police or law enforcement about your potential involvement in a crime but are not yet charged with a crime?
  • If you meet any of these categories, you may want to apply for our help.

How do I apply for a public defender?

General Sessions Court

If your case is in General Sessions Court, and you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, you must come to the Public Defender’s Office to apply for a lawyer. We encourage you to come to our Office as soon as possible after your arrest, and you must come at least two days before your court date. If you come to our Office less than two days before your court date, we will not be able to help you.  Lobby Intake hours are 8:00 am until 3:00 pm M-F

Please arrive before 3:00 p.m. if you need to be screened for an attorney to represent you. Screening ends at 3:00 p.m. daily.

The application process is a simple, three-step process:

  1. You will be asked to complete an “affidavit of indigency,” which requires you to provide information under oath about your income, assets, and expenses. An intake specialist will review that information with you and determine if you meet the income guidelines established by the General Sessions Court.
  2. If you meet the income guidelines, we will determine whether our Office can represent you or the Court needs to appoint a private lawyer to represent you. If the Court needs to appoint a private lawyer to represent you, we will provide you with the information you need to get that done, and you will not need to return to our office.
  3. If our Office can represent you, we will schedule an appointment for you to discuss your case with a lawyer from our Office before your court date. If no appointment times are available before your court date, we will ask that you remain at the office that day until a lawyer can meet with you to discuss your case.
    We accept applications Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. through 3 p.m. The application process typically takes 1-2 hours, depending on how busy we are when you arrive.

NOTICE: our office has moved, the Office of the Public Defender is physically located at
150 2nd Ave N., Suite 400
Nashville, TN 37201
Click here for details on finding our office and parking. For those using public transportation, please reference the WeGo Trip planner for your nearest stop to 2nd and Commerce. We are three blocks away from the A.A. Birch Courthouse.

If you live outside of Tennessee and cannot travel to Nashville before your court date, we may be able to take your application over the phone. In that event, we may require you to schedule a phone appointment to complete your application. If you need to apply for our help from outside of Tennessee, please call 615-862-5730 any weekday between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. CST.

Criminal Court

If your case is in Criminal Court and you cannot afford to hire a lawyer to represent you, you must ask the Judge hearing your case to appoint a lawyer to represent you. You will have the chance to make that request at your arraignment, which is your first court date in Criminal Court after you have been indicted. The Judge will ask you to provide information about your income, and will then decide whether to appoint a lawyer to represent you.