His parents pay all his expenses. Should he get a public defender?

An unemployed man whose parents pay all his expenses and let him live rent-free in their home is entitled to a public defender despite his parents’ financial resources, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in a split decision Monday.

Nicholas Feyd Greer, 29, is eligible for a public defender because, although his parents pay his and his daughter’s $6,000 in monthly expenses, he does not have broader access to their income or assets, five justices found. Justices William Hood and Monica Márquez dissented.

The decision backs up both the public defender and prosecutor on Greer’s misdemeanor careless driving case — who both agreed he should receive a state-funded defense — and overturns Arapahoe County Court Judge Joshua Jay Williford’s ruling that Greer did not qualify because “the family does have income.”

The state Supreme Court found that Greer’s situation should be considered under the court’s guidelines for roommates, which says that a roommate’s income should be considered when determining a person’s eligibility for a public defender only if the defendant has access to that income.

“Without access to his parents’ income, Greer lacks the necessary funds, on a practical basis, to retain counsel,” Justice Carlos Samour wrote for the majority. “As such, his current financial status, considered in its totality, fails to afford him equal access to the legal process.”

In the dissenting opinion, Hood wrote that Greer’s parents are members of his household, not roommates, and that as such, their income must be factored into Greer’s eligibility for a public defender under the court’s current rules.

Hood worried that defendants will take advantage of the state Supreme Court’s decision to qualify for a public defender even if they are not actually indigent.

“After today’s ruling, a criminal defendant with ample assets could transfer them to a spouse, domestic partner or parent living in the same household, and then have that person pay their expenses while claiming no ability to access the assets,” Hood wrote.

He went on to suggest that the court would be better off rethinking the eligibility guidelines more thoroughly and revising them holistically.

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