Should I Hire A Private Attorney Or Use A Public Defender?
Making the decision between hiring a private attorney versus using a public defender is an important one that can have a major impact on the outcome of your criminal case. This article will go over the key factors to consider and provide guidance on when it may make more sense to hire your own lawyer.
What Is A Public Defender?
A public defender is a lawyer appointed by the court to represent criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire their own attorney. Public defenders work for the government as salaried employees. They are assigned cases by judges rather than being chosen directly by the defendant.
Public defenders provide legal representation to people facing criminal charges who are deemed “indigent” – meaning they do not have the financial resources to pay for a private lawyer. Defendants must provide proof of their financial situation, such as pay stubs, bank statements, or tax returns, in order to qualify for a public defender.
Pros Of Using A Public Defender
Cost: The biggest advantage of using a public defender is that their services are free for the defendant. Given the often high hourly rates charged by private criminal defense attorneys, this can mean huge cost savings. For defendants who truly cannot afford a private lawyer, having legal representation at no cost is a major benefit.
Experience: Public defenders handle a high volume of criminal cases on a daily basis. They are very familiar with the prosecutors and judges in their jurisdiction. This experience dealing with the criminal justice system on a regular basis can be advantageous.
Resources: While public defender offices are underfunded compared to prosecutor offices, they still have access to resources like investigators and expert witnesses that can aid in building a defense. They also utilize social workers and other staff to help clients.
What Is A Private Criminal Defense Attorney?
A private criminal defense lawyer is one that is hired and paid directly by the defendant or their family. They are not employed by the government. Defendants shop around and choose the specific lawyer they want to represent them.
Private attorneys set their own rates and fees, which are generally much higher than what a public defender would cost. Rates can range from $100 to $500+ per hour depending on experience, location, and the seriousness of the charges.
Many private lawyers offer payment plans or allow defendants to pay in installments over time rather than upfront. But cost is still the main downside of hiring a private attorney versus utilizing a public defender.
Pros Of Hiring A Private Attorney
More attention to your case: Private attorneys take on fewer cases so they can focus more on each individual client. This allows them to dedicate more time to investigating, preparing a defense, and communicating with the defendant.
Client choice: Defendants get to choose who they want to hire, rather than just being appointed someone. This allows you to find a lawyer you feel comfortable with and trust.
Incentive to provide best defense: Private lawyers depend on satisfied clients for referrals and future business. This motivates them to mount the strongest defense so clients have better outcomes.
Better resources: Private attorneys may have more access to resources like private investigators, forensic experts, and research tools not available to overburdened public defenders.
Easier to communicate with: Private lawyers provide clients with direct contact information. Defendants can call, email or visit their office to ask questions and get updates.
Key Situations Where Hiring A Private Attorney May Be Beneficial
- Serious felony charges: Lengthy prison sentences are at stake, so the extra attention and resources of a private attorney are worthwhile.
- Complex cases: Cases involving forensic evidence, expert witnesses, or nuanced legal issues benefit from the focus a private lawyer provides.
- Dissatisfaction with public defender: If assigned a public defender you feel is not a good fit, hiring a private one is an option.
- Wanting to go to trial: Public defenders may push for plea deals to resolve cases quickly, so hiring private counsel can be important if wanting to take a case to trial.
- Specialized experience needed: Charges like DUI or white collar crimes often benefit from lawyers who specialize in those areas.
- Juvenile cases: The consequences of convictions can be life-long, so the individualized attention of a private attorney is highly recommended for minors.
Questions To Ask When Choosing A Private Attorney
- How much experience do you have handling cases similar to mine?
- What is your track record of case results for clients facing charges like mine?
- Will you be the only attorney working on my case? If not, who else will be involved?
- How quickly do you return calls and emails from clients?
- What are the total fees for handling a case like mine, and what payment plan options do you offer?
While cost is the main downside, hiring a private criminal defense lawyer often provides advantages versus relying on a public defender. The ability to shop around, along with the extra time and resources private attorneys can devote to each case, make it a good investment for many defendants – especially when serious charges are at stake. Be sure to ask prospective lawyers key questions when deciding who to hire.