How Do I Prepare a Pauper Affidavit?

By Smokey Yokems
The legal process can work for you.

The United States Constitution was written to ensure that government serves as an effective arbitrator of justice in matters of legal dispute. The pauper affidavit is the paperwork a defendant must file to help the court determine if public funds should be used to support a just hearing of his case.

Know the Law

The pauper affidavit is most commonly filed in criminal cases in which evidence of indigence (no money) will limit the defendant's right to be heard. In some states, it can also be filed in tenant/landlord disputes, bankruptcy petitions and divorce proceedings. These non-criminal requests for public support vary from state to state. Contact the Secretary of State's Office and/or your district court clerk for specific information about the pauper's affidavit in your state in civil proceedings. In criminal cases, the pauper affidavit is standard, but not every court offers it openly. In all cases, the burden of request falls on the defendant. If it is not directly offered, and the defendant does not ask for it, the opportunity for filing may pass.

The pauper affidavit is a communication tool the court uses to ensure that costs of the legal process are not limiting the rights of the individual. It must be filed correctly and on time.

Know the process

Filing time for the pauper affidavit varies, but is generally in the very early stages of contact with the court. For bankruptcy, if the option is available, file the affidavit along with the initial petition. The first decision the court will make is whether your bankruptcy can be filed without fees. If declined, you will be required to pay the filing fees before your petition is considered. This will delay the start of court protection from your debtors. For tenant/landlord disputes, forms can be filed by the tenant in a state-defined time frame between legal service by the landlord and the date of the hearing. In criminal proceedings, the pauper's affidavit is filed during or just after the pre-trial hearing and is often a part of the process that allows assignment of a public attorney. It is very important that the defendant ask the court for the pauper affidavit during the pre-trial hearing if it is not offered directly.

Know your case and your conditions.

The level of detail required to file varies state to state. As a general rule, you will be asked to fully disclose your financial position and may be asked about other resources including support from friends or family. The 6th Amendment protects the innocent individual from unlawful or unusually delayed prosecution. It does not provide individuals who have acted outside the law a means to avoid consequences or imply that courts should settle domestic disputes at the public's expense. In all cases, the expectation of the court will be that you take as much responsibility for solving your problem yourself, with assistance provided only to protect your right to be heard.

About the Author

Smokey Yokems has been teaching through writing and performance since 1982. Yokems' strength is translation. Her publications include work-for-hire children's stories, corporate video scripts and a tri-annual newsletter for a nonprofit educational foundation in Maine. Yokems holds a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing and performance from Oberlin College/Lesley University.

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