Hiring A Public Defender: 4 Things to Consider

August 22, 2018

Consider Paul’s situation. When Paul was arrested for a DUI last spring, he was scared, stressed and worried. He didn’t know anything about being charged with a DUI. Was he going to jail? How much money would he need? Did he have to tell his employer? Because of 1,000 different crime shows on Netflix, he knew about public defenders. So, he went with what he knew about hiring a public defender – which he thought was free.

What Paul didn’t know was the pros and cons about private DUI attorneys vs public defenders and the stuff he should have considered. A public defender (“PD”) is a court appointed attorney, paid by the government, and assigned to represent defendants facing jail time (you don’t get to pick one). A private or DUI attorney is just that: someone you pick, interview, and review before choosing.

Before Hiring a Public Defender, Consider These 4 Things

1. How are your finances?

There is no fixed amount of income or assets that makes someone eligible or ineligible for public defender representation. Typically, you must go through a screening process – filling out application forms before you know if you qualify. The Sixth Amendment entitles defendants to some form of court-appointed attorney, but not all PDs are free.

  • Public Defender: Hiring a Public Defender can be inexpensive, if not free, but they do not specialize in DUIs.
  • Private DUI Lawyer: Private attorneys (criminal defense attorney) offer free consultations, but will cost more money than a Public Defender. They specialize in DUIs though and have a lower caseload. Before you panic, most attorneys have a fee schedule and work with you on payments.

2. Don’t forget about your DMV hearing.

A DUI results in multiple hearings and penalties. Those hearings include a DMV hearing that decides on your driving privileges (the result is usually a suspended license or revocation) and a criminal court hearing that determines your guilt or innocence with resulting fines and/or jail time (If the result of your DUI caused personal injury or property damage to other individuals, your case may also be heard in civil court in addition to criminal court).

The biggest different is that a private DUI attorney can represent you at all procedures, but a public defender will only represent you at the criminal court hearing.

  • Public Defender: Again, PDs are free/low-cost.
  • Private DUI Lawyer: They will not accompany you to the DMV hearing, so anything you say there can be brought to your court trial. Criminal defense attorneys specialize in both types of court.

3. What is your attorney’s workload?

All attorneys are ethically bound to diligently represent their clients. Public Defenders are usually overworked and understaffed, and often too busy for the regular client meetings and hand-holding sessions provided by criminal defense attorneys. Private DUI lawyers choose which cases they work on, so they tend to have much smaller caseloads than public defenders. This can potentially mean more time and attention spent on your case.

  • Public Defender: PDs try more cases and more experience – in all types of law. Because of their enormous caseload, your DUI case may not be your public defender’s primary focus and you do not receive as much individual attention as you may like.
  • Private DUI Lawyer: A private criminal defense attorney may have less courtroom experience because they get to choose their clients and specialize. Always ask a prospective attorney about his or her courtroom experience, and perhaps even if he or she has argued cases in front of your particular judge.

 4. Pleading out or fighting it.

Many Public Defenders operate under budget quotas – only permitted to bring a certain number of cases to trial (and plea-bargaining the rest).

  • Public Defender: PDs are experienced at making deals with the state (from necessity). And of course, they actually work for the state so it’s in their best interest to get your case pleaded out quickly.
  • Private DUI Lawyer: If you want to fight your DUI charge, you may be better off with a private criminal defense attorney as Public Defenders have to be selective about which cases go to trial. A private attorney can push for a trial.

These are just a few issues to think about when hiring a Public Defender to represent you in court.

Need help finding a DUI lawyer?

We can help you find the right attorney, financial provider, insurance, counseling and more. Visit the MyDUISolution.com Marketplace to get free consultations, and quote from all other DUI service providers.

There are many resources dedicated to helping you stay safe and recover. If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, locate an AA Group here.