This article is by Aaron Jackson, a lawyer at LosAngelesPersonalInjuryAttorneys.com. Aaron practices criminal and personal injury law. A government that guarantees fair legal representation for all citizens who commit a crime is a good thing. It is an honest attempt to level the playing field for people who have limited resources, yet find themselves in a situation that threatens their freedom.
Nevertheless, qualifying for the services of a public defender does not necessarily mean this is who you want representing you in court. Is this someone you can trust to do a good job? Or, would you be better off with hiring a private criminal defense lawyer?
You have a right to ask these questions and get solid answers when you must navigate the legal process. The following information offers things to consider when making this life-altering decision.
Differences between a Criminal Lawyer and a Public Defender
One major difference between a criminal lawyer and a public defender is the amount of resources available to each. Typically, this does not manifest itself until you realize the extensive caseloads public defenders have compared to the amount of individualized time they can devote to one client. According to Prosecutor Michael Kotik, most public defenders have anywhere from 10-20 cases at any time.
Another way this becomes obvious is public defenders’ limited access to private investigators. Being able to hire someone to investigate intimate details of the crime that you are charged with committing can mean missing pertinent information that could be the deciding verdict.
Generally, the amount of resources often depends on the level of funding the public defender’s office receives. However, a private criminal lawyer does not have limited time and resources for clients.
Time constraints are another consideration when deciding whether you should hire a private attorney or go with one assigned by the court. With the high number of caseloads the majority face, it is not unusual for your file to get caught in the mix and never receive full attention.
Add to this issue getting a public defender who prioritizes cases based on the severity of the charges. This means that even if your misdemeanor file was put on their desk first, you could end up in last place if someone else’s felony case gets assigned to your public defender.
Lack of Experience
In many situations, public defenders begin their job representing clients right after law school. They are getting a lot of on-the-job training when your case is placed in their hands. Everybody has to start somewhere, but do you really want to trust your freedom to someone who is just beginning their career?
You will suffer the consequences if a mistake is made, especially if you are facing misdemeanor charges. Newbies typically get those cases since significant punishment is rarely the outcome. Still, a criminal lawyer can get a better outcome when he or she represents your case. They do not consider your life a training tool.
Shorter Preparation Time
It is not unusual that the first time a public defender looks at your file is on your first day in court. With so many case files to manage, showing up in court completely prepared is highly unlikely. When this occurs, delving deep into facts and evidence that can sway the outcome is never an option.
You want everything that can work in your favor to be presented in court. This takes time that a private criminal lawyer has to represent you. The law firm will devote an entire legal team who will work on your case from start to finish. A criminal lawyer simply has the manpower, tools and whatever resources are necessary to give your case his or her full attention.
Terminating a Public Defender is not Easy
If disagreements make you doubt the competency of your private lawyer, you could terminate their service and hire different legal representation. While you would hope that your first choice for a lawyer will continue throughout the process, it is good to know that you have other options if things take a negative turn.
However, discharging a public defender based on preference is not an easy task. If you have a legitimate and meaningful complaint about your defender’s performance, it is possible that the court will assign a different public defender to your case. Although it is possible it is rare for defendant to be successful.
Build the Best Case for an Optimal Outcome
A criminal history provides a snapshot of your past, which could negatively impact different areas of your life. Applying to certain schools, getting a job and many other things could be hindered by a record.
While a public defender is legally bound to offer assistance in your case, that assistance is often limited. Other factors unrelated to your case are often determinants in the final outcome. Therefore, your best chance to build a solid case for an optimal outcome is to hire a criminal lawyer.
You never want a temporary mistake to have a permanent impact for the rest of your life. A seasoned criminal lawyer is an investment in your freedom and future.