Arrests are often not only a stressful experience but an expensive one as well. Just court costs and fines alone may become a burden for some, so it comes as no surprise that most do not have the financial resources to hire an attorney to represent their case. For this reason, public defenders exist to help make sure that everyone gets fair representation regardless of their financial situation. There are however some things to take into account when working with a public defender. Here is a quick overview.
You must fill out an application
Many are surprised to learn that people are not just automatically assigned a public defender if they say they are not hiring a lawyer but it is actually a process in which you have to apply and then be approved. Given how the Miranda rights talk about having the right to an attorney, it makes sense, but there is a reason why it is like this. Public defenders are meant to be a resource for those who can’t afford to hire their own lawyer so courts must verify that the person who is requesting a public defender is actually in need and not someone who merely just wants to save the cash by opting for subsidized representation. This is why an application is needed. The application is merely to verify financial need and once the courts know what resources the defendant has available, they can then offer to assign a public defender at either a subsidized cost or cover the cost completely.
There is not the luxury of choice
One of the major reasons why a person would opt for hiring their own lawyer as opposed to going with a public defender is merely the opportunity to choose. Public defenders are assigned to a defendant and there is not really any room to request a different lawyer if you don’t mesh or they aren’t as well versed in a certain type of law. When you hire a private lawyer, you are able to specifically look for one that may specialize in the type of charges you are dealing with but public defenders are typically more general in their knowledge. This may feel like somewhat of a disadvantage however they will also most likely understand the county that they work in extremely well and have a lot of first-hand experience working with various opposing councils and judges which can definitely be helpful. If you are facing substantial charges in a certain specialized area, it may be of benefit to still search for a private attorney that works in these types of cases and may be able to offer pro bono work.
Public defenders often have heavy case loads
Probably the biggest disadvantage that a defendant will face when using a public defender will be how busy they always are. The courts will often assign a public defender with several cases at all times which means that they tend to be stretched very thin. This is not to say that they will not take your case seriously and they have every reason to try and represent you well but the fact of the matter is that a public defender will never have the time or resources to go through a case and study up on it the way that a private lawyer will. For this reason, plea deals tend to be more common but that in itself can be a good thing for some cases.
To sum up, while public defenders do the best that they can for all of their clients and they offer an extremely important function to those who need it most, there are things to consider when working with one especially if the details of your case are more specialized or you feel you may need more one-on-one time with your lawyer. In these cases, it may be best to see if any pro bono services may be available but for most a public defender will represent you well and give you a fair trial.