If you've been charged with a crime and you don't have much money, you may be considering having a public defender take your case. The U.S. Constitution mandates that people who can't afford an attorney can have one appointed to defend them. However, this is not the best strategy. If you can borrow money or know someone who would be willing to pay a defense attorney for you, definitely consider these options.
The Overworked Public Defense System
Up to 95 percent of individuals represented by public defenders plead guilty in a plea bargain. In addition, people represented by public defenders receive significantly longer prison sentences on average, according to a 2007 article in the New York Times.
This isn't because public defenders are inexperienced or unskilled, but because they have so many cases that there's no time to adequately defend their clients.
The Importance of Private Counsel for Lesser Offenses
It appears that many individuals choose a public defender rather than private counsel if they are charged with an offense that doesn't have the risk of a very long prison sentence, notes the 2007 article. If charged with murder -- especially if the person is innocent -- he or she will go to great lengths to pay for a private attorney.
However, going with a public defender for a lesser offense can backfire. Whereas a private attorney may have the time and resources to make sure you only receive a sentence of probation in a plea bargain, a public defender may feel forced to plead your case for a jail term.
Some Specific Advantages of Hiring Private Counsel
Hiring a private criminal defense lawyer provides you with specific advantages that public defenders simply don't have the time to offer. Some of the services the lawyer may provide you with include:
- asking the prosecuting attorney to drop or reduce the charges
- filing a motion to dismiss the case
- interviewing witnesses who will vouch for your innocence and character
- doing a full investigation of your case to discover evidence in your favor
This is a stressful and probably embarrassing time for you. You may hate the idea of approaching relatives and friends for financial help. You may not want to borrow a relatively large amount of money from a financial institution. Nevertheless, if you have people who are willing to help, this is the time to hire a private defense attorney and do everything possible to avoid a harsh sentence.