By Jedidiah McKeehan

I have discussed before the cases for which you are eligible to receive an appointed attorney (almost exclusively criminal cases). How did this right come about?

The right to an appointed attorney if you cannot afford one is a right everyone in America possesses. But before we get there, let’s review the Tennessee law that allows you to have an attorney at all for your case. Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-14-102, states, “Every person accused of any crime or misdemeanor whatsoever is entitled to counsel in all matters necessary for the person’s defense, as well to facts as to law.”

The very next Tennessee law, section 40-14-103 starts off by saying, “If unable to employ counsel, the defendant is entitled to have counsel appointed by the court.”

So the first law states that you are allowed to hire an attorney. They cannot make you represent yourself. The second law states that if you cannot afford to hire one you can have one appointed to represent you. A free lawyer? That sounds great! How do I get one of those?

The law goes on to state that if a defendant is seeking to have counsel appointed to represent them then they must fill out a two-page document called an “Affidavit of Indigency,” to see if they qualify for an appointed attorney.

The law is not specific about an exact number that someone has to make to disqualify them for an appointed attorney, but the typical standard is the federal poverty guideline. In 2021, the poverty guideline for a single-person household is $12,880.00 in a year. That means, that if you make less than that amount, $1,073.33 in a month, then you are probably entitled to an appointed attorney.

There are other factors that go into this, like assets that a person possesses (someone may be retired and own bank accounts, land and vehicles but have no income and they will NOT be entitled to an appointed attorney), but the primary factor is someone’s income.

So if you are charged with a crime and would like to explore getting an attorney appointed to represent you, you may want to go ahead and calculate how much money you make.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties. He works in many areas, including divorce, custody, criminal, and personal injury. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.