Should I Go With a Public Defender or a Lawyer of My Choice?


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When a person is facing criminal charges, he or she has many important decisions to make. He or she must consider whether to plead guilty or not guilty. He or she must decide whether to take a punishment recommended by a prosecutor. Possibly the most important decision is who he or she should use as a lawyer.

A criminal defendant generally has two main options: a public defender or a private lawyer. There are pros and cons of either decision. He or she must carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages before making a final decision.

Public Defender

A public defender is someone whom the court appoints to the case.

Advantages of Hiring a Public Defender

A public defender is appointed to defendants who cannot afford to hire a private lawyer and who requests one to be appointed. Therefore, the defendant does not have to pay for his or her lawyer, which can otherwise be very expensive.

Public defenders are familiar with a variety of criminal cases and usually have experience working on criminal cases. They work with prosecutors on a routine basis and may have a better relationship with them that can help get plea agreements through.

Disadvantages of Hiring a Public Defender

Public defenders are governmental employees. As such, they usually make much less than private lawyers. Since so many people are unable to afford to hire a lawyer for their criminal defense, they often have large caseloads. It is common for public defenders to be overworked and underpaid. These dynamics can make it so that they may make mistakes with cases or not have as much time to prepare.

Due to possibly juggling hundreds of cases at a time, a public defender may have limited amounts of time to actually meet with clients. Sometimes the public defender may only meet with a client a few minutes before he or she enters a plea. Additionally, public defenders may attempt to plead out as many cases as possible in order to handle the large caseload. This can keep a public defender from taking the time, energy and attention necessary to have formulated a legal defense that could have prevented or minimized the impact of a conviction.

Another disadvantage of having a public defender is that the client does not have the choice of lawyer. The court appoints the lawyer. If the public defender is not satisfying the client, he or she may find it difficult to get a new public defender.

Private Lawyer

A private lawyer is someone whom the defendant or his or her family personally selects.

Disadvantages of Hiring a Private Lawyer

For many people, the only disadvantage of hiring a private lawyer is having to pay for his or her services. This can sometimes be a substantial amount especially if the case is serious. However, the advantages of hiring a private lawyer often far outweigh the disadvantage of having to pay for the services he or she provides.

Advantages of Hiring a Private Lawyer

Private lawyers usually do not have nearly as many cases as public defenders. This allows them to have more one on one time with clients. This time can be used to get better acquainted with the defendant and to discover information that can aid the defense. This allows a private lawyer to find weaknesses in the prosecutionís case that may help the lawyer get the case dismissed or in having the charges reduced.

Because the defendant is paying for legal services and related legal costs, there may be more resources that can help with the defense. Expert witnesses may be hired to explain a key aspect of the case. Private laboratories may be used to test evidence that will be used against the defendant. Private investigators may help unearth important evidence that will aid the defense. Private lawyers also have additional staff, associates and paralegals that can help on the case.

Private lawyers can be contacted in their office or by phone in comparison to public defenders who may be very difficult to get a hold of. When hiring a private lawyer, a criminal defendant can meet with a lawyer and determine whether he or she wants to hire the lawyer. He or she can decide on a different lawyer. Because private lawyers are not appointed by the court but are instead personally selected, they must rely on satisfied clients in order to maintain their business and reputation. This provides an incentive for them to do a better job.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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