The short answer depends on whether not you want to end up in prison.

If the answer is yes, then go with the public defender.  If the answer is no, then hire the best criminal defense lawyer you can possibly afford.  The stakes could not be higher.

Now that is not to say that a public defender is a bad lawyer.  In fact, there are many intelligent and highly capable public defenders.  However, the system is stacked strongly against them.

As stated in this Herald Net article, Judge Farris from Snohomish County states:  “I recognize that prosecutors and public defenders may be overworked, overwhelmed and operating in a stretched system often lacking the resources to handle every case in an ideal manner.” “They may all sometimes drop the ball, forget to send discovery, or not get around to it. They may miss deadlines for a variety of reasons, including simply just because they are human. Such human mistakes are not grounds for individual sanctions.”

What that means is the criminal justice system is simply broken.  That is, the system spends billions of dollars on police officers, prosecutors and mass incarceration of our citizens.   A tiny percentage of these resources are spent on defending accused citizens who cannot afford an experienced attorney who specializes in criminal defense. As such, every public defender has a crushing caseload that they cannot even begin to handle in a professionally responsible manner.  A single public defender is often trying to handle a hundred or more cases at once.  Tragically, many criminal case files contain letters written by clients begging their judge to just be allowed to speak to their lawyer!

Additionally, most public defense offices are set up in such a way that it is almost impossible to simply place a phone call or to simply send an email to your public defender.

What are the prosecution tactics to obtain guilty pleas?

Prosecutors want to conclude their cases as expeditiously as possible with as little effort as possible.  Accordingly, their strategy is a broken record:  (1) The prosecutor overcharges the case threatening the accused with decades in prison; (2) the prosecutor makes an “offer” to the public defender very early in the case not allowing time for investigation or discover to be completed which generally states if the accused takes this “one-time offer” the accused will only do a fraction of the time in prison or in combination with a promise that additional charges will not be added; (3) the public defender presents the offer to scare the accused into a quick plea; (4) the accused takes plea and prosecutor and public defender move on to the next case.

Wrongfully convicted and public defenders.

Because of the way the public defense system is set up, there are hundreds of thousands of innocent people in prison.

In fact, this situation is so horrific that the Governor of Illinois was forced to suspend the death penalty in his state because so many people on death row (13) there were found to be stone cold innocent!

More than 95% of the innocent people who ended up in prison anyway were represented by public defenders.  A few years ago, there was a group of public defenders who offered better criminal defense to public defense clients who would pay them on the side.  Needless to say, they were thrown out of the profession.

According to the Innocence Project: “Many of the 245 people exonerated through DNA testing were represented at their original trial by public defenders or appointed attorneys who were underfunded, overburdened, in over their heads, or all of the above.”

The harsh truth is that you get what you pay for.  This isn’t necessarily fair, but it’s the way it is.

Difference of a private criminal defense attorney?

In contrast to a public defender, an experienced private lawyer who specializes in criminal defense ensures that a thorough review and investigation of the evidence is completed.  The best criminal defense attorneys will take your calls, respond to your emails and meet in person with you as often as you wish.  Further, the most experienced criminal attorneys will also ensure that the backgrounds of the police officers and witnesses involved in the case are thoroughly investigated as well.

These amazing and passionate attorneys will have trained in the art of trial advocacy and will have honed their skills to persuade the jury of their client’s innocence through excellent oral arguments and can tear up the hostile witnesses, experts and police officers through skillful cross-examination.

You don’t want to find yourself sitting in prison for years while waiting on an appeal claiming you were the victim of “ineffective assistance of counsel” because even if you prevail on appeal, years of your life have been wasted and you have to start all over again with a new trial.

Obviously, being charged with a crime is one of the most stressful and serious times a person can face in their whole lives.  Because the stakes are so high and life altering, it is critical to get the right attorney on your side as soon as possible.  There can be many good solutions to very difficult problems.  An attorney who is experienced and specializes in criminal defense has many different weapons in his or her arsenal to fight the prosecutors every step of the way to get the best result possible.

  1. 1 Yale Rev. L. & Soc. Action 4 (1970-1971)
    Did You Have a Lawyer When You Went to Court – No, I Had a Public Defender
  2. 25 Fed. Sent’g Rep. 91 (2012-2013)
    Too Many Clients, Too Little Time: How States Are Forcing Public Defenders to Violate Their Ethical Obligations