One of the first questions that Nevada judges ask recently arrested defendants is if they can afford private counsel. If they answer no, the judge appoints a public defender to represent them. Public defenders are not completely free, however…
In 2009, the Nevada Supreme Court instructed the state's district courts to start charging indigent defendants who rely on public defenders. These fees get assessed when the case ends. The money then goes into an indigent defense fund in order to pay for public defenders (or for private attorneys judicially-appointed to represent indigent defendants).
In Clark County, public defender fees range from $250 to $750 depending on how much work the public defender does for the case. Ultimately, the judge has discretion over how much to charge. If the defendant truly has no money, the judge can elect to waive the fee.
Interestingly, the Clark County Public Defender's Office is against these fees and has attempted to overturn them based on the Sixth Amendment and Gideon v. Wainwright. The PD's office is concerned that indigent defendants may choose to plead guilty early and not fight their charges to ensure they will pay the minimum fees.
Fees or no fees, public defenders are overworked and unable to accommodate all of Nevada's indigent defendants. Just this past November, the ACLU brought a federal class-action lawsuit claiming that the state's woefully deficient public defender system cheats public defenders out of fair wages and rural defendants out of fair representation.
For more information, see the Las Vegas Review-Journal articles Courts to assess indigent costs and ACLU sues Nevada over indigent defense in rural counties.