Anyone who has never seen a police-based TV show know that criminal defendants are all apprised of their right to an attorney, and that “if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you…” And, based on a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in 1963 entitled Gideon v. Wainwright, any criminal defendant facing trial at either the state or federal level has the right to an attorney paid for by the state. Of course, all other things being equal, the idea of “free” legal representation in the form of a public defender compared to the idea of paying your own private attorney can seem appealing, but are they equal? Not all private criminal defense attorneys are equally talented or experienced, and if you are facing criminal charges, you should absolutely do your research in finding a private attorney that has the skills and motivation to represent you, but is a public defender just as qualified?
Public Defenders May Be Qualified…
Attorneys enter into the role of being public defenders for various types of reasons, but rarely if ever is that reason making big bucks. By and large, public defenders earn less than successful private criminal defense attorneys, but some choose the work because of a sense of mission or justice in representing indigent clients. Others take the job right out of law school to gain valuable experience in the criminal defense world which they later use in their own private practice. And still others take the job because it is the only job they can get.
Which is all to say, that when you are randomly assigned a public defender, you might be getting a legal crusader, a future legal great just learning the ropes of defense, or a person who may simply not have the talent or legal mind to get work elsewhere. Or someone who is all three. It’s a roll of the dice, which is not a great way to approach a high-stakes criminal matter which could mean jail time and a criminal record for you.
…But They Are Overworked
Regardless of a public defender’s qualifications, the fact of the matter is that public defenders in nearly all jurisdictions are incredibly overworked, handling dozens of cases at once, and hundreds over the course of a year. In many cases, a public defender will only have looked at a defendant’s file for a few minutes and will only spend a few more minutes on meeting the defendant and representing them. Reports indicate that public defenders in Detroit spend a total of 32 minutes on each defendant’s case, and those in New Orleans spend only 7 minutes on each client’s case.
Because of this, the vast, vast majority of cases held by public defenders simply end in guilty pleas. Again, no matter how qualified your public defender might be, if your only hope is a guilty plea, it is worth looking into investing in your future by contacting a private criminal defense attorney.
Work With Experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys
If you are under arrest or investigation for a crime in Pennsylvania, the criminal defense attorneys at The Martin Law Firm, P.C. are here to defend your rights and represent you in any investigation and on through to trial. Contact us today to discuss your criminal defense matter.