This is a poll I found in USA Today years ago indicating that ¾ of respondents wouldn’t trust a public defender with their criminal case. There’s nothing wrong with the attorneys who work in the various public defender systems we have around Georgia. They are often good attorneys who are horribly overworked, underpaid, and understaffed. They get paid the same whether you like or hate how they handle your case, and sometimes that starts to show.
If you are a defendant in a criminal case, always keep certain things in mind:
- Your public defender can have as many as 150 pending cases at the same time, and probably does.
- Your public defender works on a tight budget and very little support staff, if any. Don’t expect them to have the time and resources to investigate your case as thoroughly as you want.
- Your public defender gets paid a salary for 40 hours of work per week, so don’t expect him to work any more than that.
- In counties around Atlanta where public defender services are provided by contract with private attorneys who bill on an hourly basis, the county typically pays 1/3 to ¼ of what the attorney would earn per hour on another case, so don’t expect your case to be a priority over cases paying 3x or 4x as much.
- Your public defender may have time to visit him a few times in jail, but probably not. Expect to meet your public defender in court. Don't take it personally if your public defender just doesn't have time for you.
- Your public defender and his secretary (if he has one) don’t have the time to spend on the telephone with you and your family members explaining the process and answering questions, so don’t expect them to.
- Like any salaried government employee, a public defender gets paid the same regardless of how hard he does or doesn’t work, how much time he does or doesn’t spend with clients, and how well he does or doesn’t do in court.
Defendants who can raise the funds to hire private criminal defense attorneys are almost always going to get more attention, more time, and more patience from their lawyers. Private lawyers like to win cases because that builds a good reputation for them and hopefully brings them more work in the future.
- A private criminal defense attorney typically has far fewer cases than a public defender at any one time.
- A private criminal defense attorney works on the budget set by the client, not by the government. So clients have more choices in how to conduct their case.
- A private criminal defense attorney often gets paid by the hour, so the more and harder he works, the more he earns. (Most of the ones I know work 50+ hours per week.)
- A private criminal defense attorney will visit a client as often as the client wants in jail, so long as the client is paying for the time.
- A private criminal defense attorney will take all the time necessary to spend with clients and family members to explain the process and answer questions, so long as the client is paying for the time.
- A private criminal defense attorney who doesn’t work hard doesn’t get paid.
- A private criminal defense attorney with a poor reputation for performance in and/or out of court will soon be out of business.
If you can hire your own lawyer, you should. Always. Public defenders won’t starve because you take your case to a private attorney. They may even be happy to see you go.