Private Attorney Vs. Public Defender: Choosing The Best Representation

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“There is a clause in the Sixth Amendment that guarantees you the right to receive counsel if accused of a crime, and this right is guaranteed even if you do not have the money to pay for an attorney.”

The Two Options

Getting arrested for a crime, whether you are guilty or not, forces you to deal with the problem the same way, and the solution starts with getting representation. Thankfully, there is a clause in the Sixth Amendment that guarantees you the right to receive counsel if accused of a crime, and this right is guaranteed even if you do not have the money to pay for an attorney. To put it simply, the choice between hiring a private attorney or a public defender is almost always based on the defendant’s ability to pay for private representation. We say “almost always” because there are situations where a conflict of interest arises and a defendant may be granted private representation without having to pay the bill.

The difference between a public defender and a private attorney comes down to their workload. Public defenders are overworked, underpaid, and they simply do not have the opportunity to dedicate an ample amount of time to each case as a private attorney does. At face value, you theoretically have a better chance of winning your case and getting a favorable ruling with a private attorney due to the amount of time they can spend fighting for you. It is important to note that the difference between a private attorney and a public defender has a lot less to do with talent than it does time. Public defenders know the law and generally do a great job of representing the public. If you have a choice between the two, which should you choose? We go over the pros and cons below to help you make the right decision.

Public Defender Representation: Pros

As mentioned above, the Sixth Amendment guarantees you the right to representation, and public defenders are how that right is brought to life. A public defender is assigned to your case if you cannot afford a lawyer, or at your request, assuming you qualify to receive a public defender due to your financial situation. If you are represented by a public defender, the biggest benefit comes with the price. You cannot beat free. In addition to that, the benefit becomes even larger when you compare “free” to the price of a private attorney, which usually costs thousands of dollars. Beyond the price, another benefit is the familiarity that public defenders have with the local court system. Due to the number of cases that they work on, a public defender usually knows the judges and prosecutors extremely well, which can greatly benefit your case when all is said and done.

Public Defender Representation: Cons

Regardless of how talented, professional, or passionate your public defender is, the harsh reality is that they are most likely overworked and overworked to an extreme degree. In fact, public defenders are so overworked that their workloads have been a debate when it comes to national conversations about legislation. Because of this, you are much more likely to have a plea bargain recommended to you (in hopes of avoiding trial) than you are with a private attorney. To takes things a step further, being overworked means that they may not have the necessary time or resources needed to find out the nuanced things about your case that could lead to a favorably ruling. In addition to the time and workload restraints, public defenders may deal with a lack of funding which can handcuff them when it comes to discovery research and private investigation teams when preparing for a trial.

Private Attorney Representation: Pros

When it comes to the benefits of hiring a private attorney, they have an advantage in every area that a public defender has a disadvantage in due to ample time and funding. The biggest benefit is the attorney’s workload. Private attorneys have the time needed to give your case much more attention, often leading to better detail and a better result. This extra time leads to better defense strategies, which are supported by private consultants, private investigators, and even additional attorneys that work under the same law firm. You can expect that they have the opportunity to do a better job interviewing witnesses, finding holes in the prosecution’s case against you, and preparing for trial if need be. When it comes to trial preparation, the time and funding available to a private attorney can lead to the hiring of trial consultants and jury consultants, all brought in to give you the best chance possible to win your case. There is no doubt that the list of benefits when it comes to working with a private attorney is a long one, but you still want to make sure the law firm that you hire has a great reputation.

Private Attorney Representation: Cons

The list of cons when it comes to hiring a private attorney is very short, but very expensive. The biggest, and arguably only negative of hiring a private attorney is the cost. When it comes to paying for private representation, there is a variety of options that you may be offered including a flat fee, a retainer, or an hourly payment structure. In addition to this, you may or may not have the option to utilize a payment plan. According to current statistics on Threvo, the average hourly cost of an attorney falls between $100 – $400, which is largely based on the complexity of your case. Concerning flat fees and retainers, there is too much variation out there to get solid numbers, but as a general rule, you should expect to pay somewhere between $5,000 – $10,000 for a criminal attorney working a felony case.

Who Should You Choose?

Choosing between a public defender and private attorney can be the difference between keeping you out of jail, prison, or any other form of detention. When making the choice, be sure to do what makes sense financially, as you may be faced with additional costs if you are granted probation or some other form of alternative sentencing. If you have the money to hire a private attorney, we always recommend doing so, but be sure to do your research and vet your attorney. The first step to making the right move is getting out of jail while you fight your case, so contact us if you need help with bail.

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