July 1, 2015

Public Defenders vs Private Attorneys

If you have been charged with a crime, you will need to decide whether to hire an experienced private defense counsel or try to get a public defender. Sometimes your financial situation dictates whom to hire. Aside from cost, a defendant needs to hire an attorney who has a winning record in court, maintains good relationships with judges and prosecutors, and focuses on your case. In the following article, we explain the differences between different types of attorneys and the benefits of hiring one over another.

Types of Criminal Defense Attorneys

  • Public Defender: salaried public defenders appointed to represent, often in a central office, people who cannot afford to hire an attorney.
  • Contract Counsel: private attorneys selected to provide representation through a contract. The contracts are often awarded through a bidding process. 
  • Assigned Counsel: private attorneys selected to take cases and are paid by case or by the hour. These attorneys are often used when the public defender’s office has a conflict of interest in a case or other situations where public defenders or contract counsel cannot take a case.
  • Pro Bono Attorneys: undertakes a case voluntarily and without payment or at a reduced fee. 
  • Private Attorney: employed by a private person rather than by a government or a subdivision thereof. 

Pros and Cons

Public Defender ComparisonResults and Choice. Obviously, there are fantastic attorneys and not so good ones in either public or private fields. However, clients have no idea which ones are good when it comes to public defenders. Public defenders do not release their case results, thus their track record in court is completely unknown. Further, you cannot choose your public defender. The court assigns you a public defenderregardless of your preference or whether the public defender has any experience with your types of case. By hiring a private criminal defense attorney, you know whether you made a right decision. You can meet with several private attorneys (often free of charge) before you choose one. 

Case Load and Funding. According to Justice Policy Institute, “under-resourcing is a primary challenge for many public defenders and in places where it is most acute, the problems are related to the structure of public defense. Resources, in the broadest sense, can include funding, time, training, investigative services, independence and oversight. All of these are intertwined and not easily disentangled.” Common sense dictates, that the more cases your attorney handles, the less time he/she spends on your particular case. A private criminal defense attorneys handle less cases, thus they are able to focus on your facts. Private attorneys have the time and motivation to dedicate to your case and thoroughly communicate with you. Your side of the story is extremely important because your attorney was not there when you were arrested. If you cannot easily communicate with your attorney, that should raise a red flag. 

Wait and See Approach. A number of our clients hired us at later stages of the criminal process by implementing a wait and see approach. A client goes to the arraignment and  even a preliminary hearing readiness conference with a public defender. You may get lucky and find a public defender or a court appointed lawyer with a light work load, but the chance is very slim. Once the client starts to believe that the public defender is not helping his/her case, the search for a private attorney begins.We do not recommend this approach to anyone. Obviously, an attorney cannot simply continue the case from that point on without making sure that everything was done correctly during previous hearings. We will also need to meet with you and get a full story from the beginning. You don’t need to gamble with your future. By hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney you purchase a peace of mind that you are getting the best representation possible.