What to expect with a public defender

Legal fees can often be a huge burden on many who go through the court system. It’s for this reason and because it is a constitutional right to have a fair trial, that the services of a public defender are offered to those who do not have the means to hire an attorney to defend their case. While this option can be a lifesaver, there are some things to know that may be surprising when working with a public defender. Here is what you need to know.

You will have to fill out an application

The Miranda Rights, where it is said, “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you.” Can come off as a bit misleading when you take into account that a defendant actually must apply to be appointed a public defender and they can be rejected for this service. This is mostly to avoid having defendants who have the ability to afford a private attorney from taking advantage of the system and simply using a public defender to save on money when it takes away resources from those that are more in need. With an application, they will simply ask about financial resources and income to verify that the defendant is low-income and will either subsidize the cost for a public defender or cover it completely depending on need.  

You don’t get to choose your lawyer

Probably the biggest drawback when it comes to using a public defender over a private attorney is the fact that the defendant is simply assigned an attorney with no choice as to who that person will be. While of course whoever is assigned will do their best to do right by their client, there can be some limitations in knowledge in certain types of cases where a person may choose someone who specializes in a certain type of law if given a choice. The other part that may be off-putting about not being able to choose is the possibility of having clashing personalities or philosophies in terms of how to deal with the case which can lead to distrust or just less cooperation. Again, however, the public defender is there to represent you so they will still always try to do things with helping you in mind.

Public defenders are often stretched thin

The one other major thing to know about public defenders is that they are often juggling several cases at one time. This may be unexpected when you are told that you would be assigned a lawyer but often public defenders’ caseloads are heavy. Because of this, while they will always try and do their due diligence for a client is studying up and researching the case, the fact is they only have so much time in a day and it probably won’t be as comprehensive as working with a hired attorney. On the flip side of this, however, is most likely they know the ins and outs of the county that they serve and will often know many of the prosecutors and judges that they work with on a routine basis. This can be extremely helpful when knowing what to expect and how a specific judge works in their thinking.

Overall, there are both good and undesirable aspects that one has to deal with when it comes to public defenders, however, these workers will still always do what they can to ensure you are fairly represented and give you the best chance to effectively make your case.