Why Hire a Lawyer vs. a Public Defender?

Being charged with a crime is likely the most serious thing to happen in your life. The consequences of a criminal conviction may include not only incarceration but also job loss, marital stress, and public humiliation. Nowadays, almost all criminal court records are available online, providing easy access to current and prospective employers, universities, and even curious neighbors.

You have a constitutional right to have an attorney represent you in a criminal case in which there is the possibility of incarceration. You may be tempted to take advantage of the court’s offer to appoint a public defender or court-appointed counsel “free” of charge. However you should be aware of the following consequences of accepting representation by a “free” attorney:

The Attorney May Not Actually Be “Free”

In today’s economy, many courts are working under shoestring budgets. Although every person that wants and is in need of a public defender or court-appointed counsel will be accommodated, many courts are looking for ways to get back the costs associated with these “free” attorneys by ordering the defendant to pay an “appointed counsel fee” at the end of the case.

The Attorney May Be Inexperienced

While there are a number of highly qualified public defenders and court-appointed counsel, there are also a number of newly admitted, inexperienced attorneys who would be using your case to gain experience. It can be very risky subjecting yourself to an inexperienced attorney’s “beginner’s mistakes.” Especially when you have so much at stake.

You Can’t Pick Your Attorney

The courts do not allow you to pick your public defender or court-appointed counsel. You may merely be assigned to “the next person on the list.” For some people, they may be fortunate enough to get an excellent attorney; however, for many others, they may get an attorney who is less than interested in working hard for the reduced fee that he/she will receive in the case. Many courts have a “cap” or maximum fee that they will pay court-appointed counsel, which may impact that attorney’s motivation to expend his or her best efforts in fighting for a client once the limits on that maximum fee are reached. A critical advantage of hiring an attorney of your own choosing is finding an attorney who you believe in, who you respect, who you feel confident in, and with whom you would want to spend many hours preparing, should the case proceed to trial.

The Attorney May Be Overworked

In today’s economy, public defender offices have tighter budgets. There are fewer public defenders handling greater numbers of cases. Even the most brilliant, hardest-working public defenders may find it impossible to put forth their best efforts in every case because they simply do not have the time. You do not want to be the client to have his or her case deemed a lower priority when an overworked attorney is trying to budget his or her time.