What is best a Public Defender or Private Attorney?

There has always been much discussion on what is the best decision to make on this subject. Should we go with a public defender just because they are free or should we make an effort to hire a private attorney? Below are some interesting points to consider before we decide;

public defender or private attorneyDownside of using a Public Defender

1. Government employees
  • Paid a civil servant salary which are generally much lower than those in the private sector
2. Overwhelming caseloads
  • Handle as many as 100 to 200 cases at a time
  • Seriously overworked and underpaid compared to private attorneys
3. Non-specialized
  • Public defenders handle a wide variety of cases at any given time: murder, rape, robbery, drug possession and so on in addition to DUI/DWI cases, so many may not have the same level of specialist knowledge in the field that a private lawyer.
4. Less experienced
  • Many newly qualified attorneys cut their teeth at the Public Defender’s office in order to gain experience and decide on what area of law they want to specialize in
5. Minimal client face time
  • PDs often meet with clients and review their cases just minutes before the client is due to enter a plea. Generally this is not enough time to get a very good sense of who their client is very important in formulating a defense
  • This could also lead to the PD missing small but crucial details about a case that a more thorough investigation would reveal
6. Interested in resolving case as quickly as possible
  • Because PDs get a fixed salary regardless of success rates, it may be in a public defender’s interest to encourage a lopsided plea-deal which doesn’t necessarily have their defendant’s best interest at heart in order to resolve a case expeditiously, rather than go to trial, which means a lot more time and preparation for the PD but no extra pay
  • This is unlike a private attorney, who actually makes more money by going to trial, and an aggressive attorney will be more than happy to do so if they feel they have a good chance of winning at trial.
7. You do not get to choose your attorney
  • You have to accept the defender assigned to you, unless you have a very good reason not to. If you simply do not like your assigned attorney, or don’t feel they have your best interest at heart, tough luck.
8. You may earn too much to qualify for a public defender, even if you are cash-strapped
  • If you are a low or middle-income, you may not even qualify for a public defender as there are very stringent income cut offs points.
  • You will need to check with your county or state court as to what the income criteria is for your area, and may have to spend time showing proof of income in order to qualify
  • Because public defender services are in such high demand, the income thresholds are set very low so chance are you may not even qualify for one even if you work a minimum wage or commission-only job.
9. Your case could take longer to be resolved
  • Because public defenders are managing so many cases simultaneously, the likelihood of court appearance conflicts with their clients is much more common.
  • Your traffic case will typically be lower priority for the public defender than a murder case for example, it may be that your court dates keep getting pushed back simply because the defender is not available.
  • This could obviously be very frustrating as you want to be able to move on with your life and have a resolution as quickly as possible.


Public Defender or Private AttorneyUpside of using a Private Attorney

 Private attorneys thrive based on their reputation and in today’s internet-driven world it is increasingly more difficult or bad attorneys stay in business for very long if they are not meeting their clients’ needs and expectations
1. Less cases means more time on each case
  • Private attorneys typically handle between 10 to 50 cases at a time
  • This is far more manageable caseload than a public defender’s typical caseload and so will be able to conduct a far more thorough analysis and do additional investigation work on your case, that a PD simply won’t have the time to do
  • This is key when it comes to finding holes in the prosecution’s case against you which can in turn be used to get the case dismissed entirely or at least have some of the charges dropped or reduced
2. More resources at their disposal
  • Private attorneys will have an existing network of private investigators, expert witnesses, private chemical testing laboratories, associate lawyers and paralegals that they can draw upon to do further work on your case. Bringing in a credible expert witness to dispute the results of your blood or breath test for example, could be the difference between an innocent or guilty verdict in a DUI/DWI case.
  • Of course the client will have to foot the bill for the use of the attorney’s extended network outside of their office staff
3. Specialize in Traffic Law defense
  • Despite DUIs being the number one crime in the United States, it has become an extremely a complex area of law. Some attorneys argue DUI cases are even more difficult than handling a murder case because of the lower burden of proof. In a murder case, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty – not so with DUI cases as the defendant is assumed guilty based on their blood or breath tests.
4. Payment plans
  • Most private attorneys realize that a large percentage of the population does not have a spare couple of thousand dollars lying around, and most cases occur unexpectedly, so many will allow you to retain them with a small deposit plus monthly payment arrangement that is affordable to you
5. Feared Reputation/ Good Negotiator
  • A private attorney is more likely than a public defender to have a feared reputation at the prosecutor’s office, because have probably taken previous cases to trial and won. If they haven’t, you may want to look for another lawyer. This reputation alone may encourage the prosecutor to offer a more favorable plea-deal, as it is against the prosecutor’s protocol to take a case to trial that they don’t think they can win.
  • A savvy lawyer will be good at communicating and negotiating with the prosecutor and the judge, and will already have an established history with the players.
  • A good lawyer knows that they do not necessarily have to win the case at trial; they just need to convince the prosecution that they will not be able to.
6. Less time in court
  • With a public defender, the only time you get to consult with them is in court, normally a few minutes before your appearance so you have to go to court for every appearance, even those that are not required just to talk to your lawyer.
  • With a private attorney, you will consult with them at their office and over the phone, and so they attend court on your behalf for the times that you are not required to be present.
  • A private attorney will also attend the Motor Vehicle Department hearing with you, which a public defender will not. This can make a huge difference to you keeping your driver’s license, or at least obtaining a restricted one, while your case is pending.
7. You can fire a private attorney
  • If you are not happy with the way the attorney is handling your case – maybe they never return your calls, or you have been passed off to a lower level associate when it was your understanding a partner would be handling your case – you can simply fire them and move on to the next attorney.
  • You will of course have to compensate the old one for the time they already spent on your case, so switching attorneys several times could get costly, and could give the impression to the prosecution that you having trouble building a strong defense.

Public Defender or Private Attorney?

So now that you know what are the main differences between a public defender and a private attorney we hope you will give yourself the best fighting chance and contact us at Elizabeth Gonzalez Law firm for an appointment. Let us get to work on your case!