Differences Between a Criminal Defense Lawyer vs a Public Defender

Updated on July 13, 2021
Updated: May 23, 2022

When an individual is facing criminal charges, they have a lot of important decisions to make. Aside from deciding whether you should take a guilty or not guilty plea, you will also get to make the decision a punishment that may be recommended by the prosecutor. However, one of the most significant decisions you will have to make is who you will choose to defend you. After many people's first arrest they have a tough time choosing between a criminal defense lawyer vs a public defender.

As a criminal defendant facing a criminal conviction, you have two legal options. You can choose to have a private attorney or public defender represent you. Each of these legal options has an advantage and a disadvantage. Before the individual makes a final decision, they have to weigh the pros and cons. the decision you make can lead to a successful case or you will have to suffer adverse consequences as a result.

According to the sixth amendment of the US constitution, you are entitled to legal representation. Every criminal defendant has a right to a criminal justice attorney. Even if it is a constitutional right to legal representation does not mean that everyone in the US is entitled to free legal representation.

If you are a criminal defendant and cannot afford a lawyer, then one will be hired for you from the public defense office. However, if you can hire a criminal justice lawyer, you should probably go ahead and seek their legal assistance.

The question of whether you should hire a public defender or a criminal defense counsel will mainly depend on affordability and the legal assistance you need.

Should You Hire an Attorney or Work With a Public Defender?

Suppose you have been accused of criminal charges like sexual assault, drug possession, driving under the influence, or another criminal offense. In that case, you will need an excellent criminal defense counsel working on your case to help with the presentation of evidence. You may be wondering who will best represent you. Is it a public defender or a private criminal defense lawyer?

Public Defense

Suppose a criminal defendant cannot afford a private attorney. In that case, they will need the assistance of counsel from the public defender programs, the court will assign them a public defender, and it will not cost the defendant anything.

However, because the public defense office appoints the lawyer, the criminal defendant will not have a choice on who will defend them. Even if the public defender is not offering effective defense, the defendant will not be able to course the court to give them a different lawyer.

A Court-appointed public defender is employed by the government to ensure a fair trial. They probably earn less compared to and compared to private attorneys. The courts are not to have indigent defense systems that do not offer quality representation since the public defendants don't have enough time to work on one case at a time. 

According to the US department of justice, around 60 to 90 percent of defendants are unable to hire an attorney. Since they have legal rights the government will have to hire an attorney for them. This means that a court-appointed counsel will have a lot of cases to work on. Due to heavy casework, they have insufficient time to meet with the defendants, discuss their cases, or even offer quality representation.

Public defender in court

A court-appointed counsel is overworked. They can handle dozens of cases at a time. This indigent defense system makes them prone to making mistakes. A mistake can be expensive and it can have adverse consequences on the defendant. Most of the time, they may recommend a plea bargain plea so they can be able to move on to the next case.

According to the bureau of justice statistics, public defenders can handle up to 590 cases in one year, even though the American bar association recommends that they work on 150 cases in a year. Public defendants have a big workload, and they are underpaid. They earn around a third of what private attorneys make. Since most lawyers do not opt to work for the government, the public defenders that work in the indigent defense systems have to take up a lot of work for lower pay.

The pro to hiring a public defense is that they have a good relationship with the judges and criminal prosecution since they have worked closely with them before. For this reason, they will be able to get you a good deal if the only option you have is a plea bargain. They are cost-effective, and you won’t have to pay anything since they have been appointed to you by the court.

Private Attorneys

A qualified defense counsel is expensive, and you will have to spend a reasonable sum to get a qualified, experienced lawyer to work on your case. Hiring a personal attorney is not always a guarantee that your lawsuit will be dismissed but you will have effective representation in the court. 

You have the freedom to choose the private attorney that will represent you and give you quality representation. You can select the attorney based on their ethics, ability to conduct pretrial investigation affordability, level of experience, academic qualifications, or their number of wins.

A private attorney has more time and resources to work on your case. They will look for expert witnesses and other defense witnesses that will testify in favor of the defendant. They can work with experts like private investigators carrying out a criminal investigation, private laboratories, and other experts to prove your innocence.

They have more time to carry out the pretrial investigations and build a legal defense, offer effective representation, and find even more unlikely defense witnesses since they can interact more with their clients and get more information.

What Should You Look Out for While Hiring an Attorney?

While you are looking for an attorney to give you the effective representation you should work with a criminal defense lawyer in Illinois that you can trust. You also need someone who believes in your case. Some of the other factors that you should keep in mind when looking for effective representation from a qualified defense counsel:

  • Their Reviews: When looking for criminal representation, you should consider what people in the community are saying about them. Look at their rating and their local reviews. Consider a lawyer that has more reviews and a higher rating. A higher rating means that they can offer you effective representation.
  • The Knowledge They Have: Have they worked on cases that are similar to yours before? There are many great lawyers, but you should opt for competent representation by choosing lawyers that specialize in your field instead of an all-around lawyer.
  • Their Recent Experience: The best lawyer to hire should not only have relevant experience but recent experience as well. Have they recently worked on any case?
  • Personal Connections: It is vital to have an effective client relationship with the lawyer you are hiring. It will allow you to trust the qualified defense counsel you are going to hire.

Learn More: Can You Expunge a Criminal Record in Illinois?

How a Court-Appointed Attorney Is Appointed

If you know that there is no way you will be able to pay for qualified attorneys to represent you in your case, here is the process of how a court-appointed lawyer is appointed to you

After you make your first appearance in court and you are arraigned, an opportunity will be given to you to request a court-appointed attorney from the judge.

You will be required to prove that you are unable to afford legal counsel. In some instances, you will have to fill out a questionnaire.

Criminal Defense Lawyer vs a Public Defender

When you qualify, the judge will assign a public defender to your case. If there isn’t a court-appointed counsel available to work on your case, the court will use public funds to hire a criminal defense counsel to handle your case.

The court’s only job is to hire an attorney for you. The responsibility to keep in touch win them lies on you. Depending on the individual ability to pay and the nature of the case, some individuals will still have to pay court fees or attorney fees.

Benefits of Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney

A private lawyer will help you consider all the settlement options available. If you are offered a plea deal after the judgment of conviction they can help you negotiate for a better deal.

You have the chance to protect your future. Experienced criminal defense attorneys have the potential of keeping your record clean so that it does not affect your future. 

If you want to know more about what a private lawyer can do for you before the judgment of conviction, you should schedule a meeting and get your questions answered. Call our criminal defense firm today at (708) 232-0017 to schedule a free consultation.

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