If you have been charged with a crime, you may be wondering whether you should be represented by a public defender or hire your own private counsel. It is important to note that not everyone qualifies for the services of the public defender’s office. Only those who cannot afford to hire an attorney are entitled to use a public defender. This means that many people who are employed do not have the option to work with a public defender. In order to apply for a public defender, you will be required to fill out a financial affidavit documenting your financial situation. A judge reviews the affidavit and determines whether you qualify. If you qualify, the judge will appoint a public defender.
It is important to note that you do not get to choose your public defender, and you will be stuck with whoever is assigned. You may also be required to pay a fee for the services of the public defender.
The number one difference most people notice between a public defender and a private defense attorney is in the realm of communication and availability. Public defenders are often overworked and forced to take on large caseloads. This results in public defenders spending much of their time in court and does not leave them with sufficient time to communicate with, or be available to, their clients. This means that you may only be able to speak with your public defender on the day of your court appearances.
Conversely, private defense attorneys are free to take on as many or as few clients as they choose. This means a private attorney can ensure that they have plenty of time to communicate with you and ensure that you are informed about all aspects of your case in advance of your hearings. For many, this is a huge benefit while navigating an unfamiliar process. Additionally, a private defense attorney will be available to answer calls and emails more promptly. Many private attorneys even answer calls and emails outside of regular business hours. Finally, many private defense attorneys will give out a cell phone number so that their clients can text them with questions or concerns.
One of the other main benefits of hiring a private defense attorney is the ability to choose your counsel. If you elect to go with a public defender, you will be stuck with whoever is assigned to your case. If you are not satisfied with your public defender, you have the option of firing the public defender’s office, but you generally do not have the ability to switch to a different public defender.
When you hire a private defense attorney, you get to pick exactly who you want to work with. This allows you to choose someone with a level of knowledge and experience that you are comfortable with. You also have the opportunity to ask them questions before hiring them so that you know exactly how your representation will be handled. For example, you will be able to find out whether there will be other lawyers, paralegals, or legal assistants at the firm working on your case.
A private attorney has a personal stake in the outcome of your case because if they do not do a good job for their clients, they will likely stop getting clients and go out of business. Conversely, a public defender will always have more clients regardless of the outcomes they obtain for their clients. Additionally, a study of more than 5,200 cases found that outcomes vary widely based upon whether a defendant was represented by a public defender or a private defense attorney. The study found that people who are represented by a public defender are more likely to be sentenced to serve jail time and that those who were represented by a private attorney on average received a jail sentence that was 3 years shorter than those represented by public defenders.
If you have been charged with a crime, contact the BK Law Group today for a consultation. A skilled attorney could discuss your options with you and ensure that you give yourself the best chance at a positive outcome.