How do I obtain the services of a Public Defender?

The Office of the Public Defender can only do work for people who have been found eligible for representation by a Public Defender. A person’s eligibility will be determined based on by one’s ability to pay for an attorney. To see if you qualify, you must visit one of our branch where you will be required to complete an eligibility application. The items required to process an application (one per case) are proof of income, assets and expenses for you and your spouse, and your court paperwork.  If you are a member of the military, or a dependent or spouse of a member of the military, you may be required to produce your Leave and Earnings Statement (LES).  The Office of the Public Defender utilizes the Federal HHS Poverty Guidelines to determine eligibility.  Anyone who is at or below 150% of the poverty threshold, or who receives or is eligible for Food Stamp Assistance will automatically be qualified for Public Defender assistance.

HHS Poverty Guidelines 2012

One Version of the [U.S.] Federal Poverty Measure
[Federal Register Notice, January 26, 2012- Full text] [Prior Poverty Guidelines and Federal Register References Since 1982] [Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)] [ Further Resources on Poverty Measurement, Poverty Lines, and Their History ] [Computations for the 2012 Poverty Guidelines]

There are two slightly different versions of the federal poverty measure:

• The poverty thresholds, and
• The poverty guidelines.

The poverty thresholds are the original version of the federal poverty measure. They
are updated each year by the Census Bureau (although they were originally developed
by Mollie Orshansky of the Social Security Administration). The thresholds are used
mainly for statistical purposes – for instance, preparing estimates of the number of
Americans in poverty each year. (In other words, all official poverty population figures
are calculated using the poverty thresholds, not the guidelines.) Poverty thresholds since
1973 (and for selected earlier years) and weighted average poverty thresholds since 1959
are available on the Census Bureau’s Web site. For an example of how the Census
Bureau applies the thresholds to a family’s income to determine its poverty status, see
“How the Census Bureau Measures Poverty” on the Census Bureau’s web site.

The poverty guidelines are the other version of the federal poverty measure. They are
issued each year in the Federal Register by the Department of Health and Human
Services (HHS). The guidelines are a simplification of the poverty thresholds for use for
administrative purposes – for instance, determining financial eligibility for certain
federal programs. The Federal Register notice of the 2012 poverty guidelines is
The poverty guidelines are sometimes loosely referred to as the “federal poverty level”
(FPL), but that phrase is ambiguous and should be avoided, especially in situations (e.g.,
legislative or administrative) where precision is important.
Key differences between poverty thresholds and poverty guidelines are outlined in a table
under Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). See also the discussion of this topic on the
Institute for Research on Poverty’s web site.


2012 Poverty Guidelines for Hawaii

Persons in family/household                     Poverty guideline

1                                                          $12,860

2                                                             17,410

3                                                            21,960

4                                                             26,510

5                                                            31,060

6                                                             35,610

7                                                            40,160

8                                                            44,710

For families/households with more than 8 persons,

add $4,550 for each additional person.