This article is by Steve Raiser, a fantastic personal injury and criminal defense lawyer.
Everyone has a right to representation in court, and those who cannot afford to hire a private attorney have the option of relying on a public defender. However, those who have the option are typically best served by working with a private attorney. Here are a few reasons why.
Public defenders receive relatively little pay for the work they do, and most simply don’t have the time to put forth a solid defense. Furthermore, public defenders aren’t paid by the hour, and it’s in their financial interest to get a case over with in a timely manner. People looking to fight criminal charges generally want an attorney who’s capable of putting in the time the case requires instead of simply trying to get it over with. More time means private attorneys can track down information public defenders can’t, and it allows them to hone the defense toward the case the prosecutor brings instead of putting forth a more typical defense.
Public defenders vary in terms of skill and experience, but many don’t view their work as the final jobs in their careers. Again, money plays a factor; public defenders who learn on the job often move into private law after a certain amount of time and view their work as a resume point. While some public defenders have years of experience, many are in the early stages of their careers, and their lack of experience can result in you getting a less robust defense. When hiring a criminal defense lawyer, you’re more likely to hire a lawyer with experience within the system. This experience doesn’t just make a difference in the courtroom; experienced lawyers know how to guide their clients outside of the courtroom to avoid issues that can pop up during trial. Furthermore, they know how to better prepare their clients for the stresses that criminal cases can bring, which can make the process less stressful.
As public defenders are typically paid per case, it’s in their best financial interest to end the case before it even reaches the courts. Because of this, prosecutors often have standard pleas they offer to defendants, and public defenders often push their clients to accept these deals instead of pursuing a defense in the courtroom. Criminal defense lawyers, on the other hand, often know how to leverage their experience and strive for better plea deals for their clients if doing so can result in a more favorable outcome. They can also provide guidance for their clients that public defenders often can’t provide; even if the facts make a conviction seem unlikely, accepting a plea deal might be worthwhile if it avoids the possibility of a conviction entirely and can lead to a faster resolution.
In many cases, successfully defending against charges goes beyond merely launching a strong defense. Small factors, including how the defendant dresses, can have an influence on jurors, and getting all of these elements right demands experience and time, two elements criminal defense lawyers typically have that public defenders often lack. Furthermore, many defendants, whether they’re guilty or not, might have substance abuse problems or other issues that might arise during the trial. Getting proper treatment can help during the trial and, if there is a conviction, during the sentencing portion of the trial. Getting these factors right is crucial for handling a case as rigorously as possible.
Prosecutors know how little time public defenders have to prepare for cases, and they use this knowledge as leverage to secure a plea deal or guilty plea so they can more on to other cases. Prosecutors, like public defenders, are often overwhelmed, and they have to decide whether a case is worth bringing to trial. Criminal defense lawyers pose a bigger threat to securing a conviction than public defenders, and prosecutors are less likely to pursue charges if they have to go against an experienced lawyer with a strong track record. In some cases, defense lawyers can present the facts of a case to the prosecutor and explain, convincingly, why a conviction is unlikely. This leverage can sometimes result in having charges dismissed in cases where the prosecutor would pursue charges if the defendant was relying on a public defender.
Being a defendant is always stressful, and those who find themselves facing the prospect of a conviction need to ensure they’re taking all steps possible to have the case resolved well or beating charges. While public defenders play a valuable role in ensuring that all defendants are represented, they simply can’t offer the same effectiveness as criminal defense lawyers, and those in a position to hire one should strongly consider doing so.