"Public defender offices and other indigent defense providers are underfunded and understaffed. Too often, when legal representation is available to the poor, it’s rendered less effective by insufficient resources, overwhelming caseloads and inadequate oversight."
- United States Attorney General Eric Holder
One of the first questions people face after finding themselves accused of a crime is whether to hire a criminal defense attorney of their choosing or ask the court to appoint them a public defender. The question of "whether" to hire a private attorney or take your chances with some random public defender is an easy one, because it shouldn't even be a question at all.
Public defenders are skilled attorneys, but they are very busy. They are for people who can't afford private attorneys, so if you CAN afford a private attorney, the court system expects to do so. No one who is able to afford a private attorney is supposed to get a taxpayer-funded public defender. The system is abused, meaning the public defenders are overworked by people they shouldn't have to represent. Check on my website blog for articles about how overworked the public defender system already is. The fact that you are considering private counsel means you are probably able to afford one, which means you should go hire one right away and let your public defender get back to work defending the truly needy.
You will be glad you did. Most people wouldn't trust their case to a public defender. Private attorneys have fewer cases and thus more time to spend on each case working for the client.
It is ALWAYS better to have an attorney of your choosing, paid by you, than to take whatever random attorney the government assigns to you. You don't want to be just another charity case clogging up a public defender's desk. The United States Attorney General is on record saying that "public defender offices and other indigent defense providers are underfunded and understaffed. Too often, when legal representation is available to the poor, it’s rendered less effective by insufficient resources, overwhelming caseloads and inadequate oversight.”
People try to squeak through the system as cheaply as possible, but if a private attorney is able to resolve a criminal case just one year shorter than a public defender, what is that worth? Even at a minimum wage job, your freedom is worth at least $15,000 per year saved, and that's not including the benefit of sleeping in your own bed alone instead of a jail cell every night with a stranger. If you think attorneys are expensive, just think about how much losing your case will cost you. Compared to that, attorneys are a bargain.
Once you decide to hire a private attorney, you have to decide to hire the best one you can find or try to find a discount lawyer. You wouldn't shop for a discount plastic surgeon, a discount cardiologist, or a discount doctor for your child. When your freedom is on the line, a private attorney is the LAST thing you should be cheap about.
If you were going to jump out of an airplane, you wouldn't want a discount parachute. It may work just as well as an expensive one. You may float down slowly, glad you didn't spend more money on an expensive parachute, or you may get to the ground much faster than you planned, wishing you had invested in a better parachute. But would you rather have a better parachute than you needed or need a better parachute than you have? Like parachutes, I would rather get to the end of a case and realize that I paid for more lawyer than I needed than to get there and realize that I needed more lawyer than I paid for. Sure, you may be one of those few people who get lucky, but your freedom isn't something you leave up to chance.