The court-appointed attorney is a vital component in allowing everyone the right to a fair trial. However, if you have the funds, there are several reasons why it is worth your while to hire your own criminal defense attorney.
The right to a fair trial is one of our most valuable liberties in the United States. No matter your crime, race, sex or economic status, every American is granted a hearing. For those who can’t afford a lawyer, a public defender is there to represent them in court.
Can a public defender handle a case as effectively as a private criminal defense attorney? Probably not. Like many other things in life, you get what you pay for. You may think you don’t have the funds, but there are a dozen better options than settling for court-appointed attorney.
Several years ago, a study was conducted that examined this very question. The study found that criminals represented by a court-appointed attorney served on average three years more in prison than those who hired a criminal defense attorney. There are many reasons this is true.
Unlike a public defender, a criminal defense attorney controls the amount of clients and cases he or she will take on at any given time. A public defender is likely fighting cases all day, almost every day, and does not have the time to care for each individual case as much as an independent lawyer.
Another factor to consider is that a public defender is not paid any more or less depending on the outcome of a case. He or she also usually works on a salary, meaning the amount of time spent working on your case has no effect on a public defender’s paycheck. Although it is typical to pay a criminal defense attorney upfront, the amount of cases he or she wins affects his or her reputation. If a lawyer develops a bad reputation and poor track record, he or she will not see continuous business.
Public defenders often spend tens to hundreds of cases in the same courtroom with the same people — even those they’re fighting against. Here’s a little story about the first time I attended jury duty to explain why this matters.
It was an assault case in which the defendant was represented by a court-appointed defender and the plaintiff was represented by the district attorney. After several long, heated arguments on the floor with both lawyers visibly flustered and frustrated with each other, the jury went to deliberate.
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I, being an alternate juror, was allowed to hang out near the judge’s chambers with the judge and both lawyers while they waited. To my surprise, the district attorney and public defender were hanging out with each other, laughing over a cup of coffee. When I mentioned my puzzlement, they explained that they work with each other every day, and all of the fights and theatrics are just part of the presentation of the case.
The defendant got convicted with misdemeanor, rather than criminal, assault. Both lawyers said they predicted this outcome.
Your life, your freedom and your record are on the line when you are charged with a crime. Whether you have to borrow the money from your parents or friends, it will likely cost you a lot less in the long run if you invest in a criminal defense attorney.