One of the most well-known rights of criminal defendants is the right to an attorney. This right is protected under the Sixth Amendment and is one of the most important rights criminal defendants have. A criminal defendant has the right to seek legal counsel in most criminal cases.
Here is where the right is less understood. Some people think that because you have a right to an attorney, the court will appoint you one free of charge. In actuality, only indigent defendants can be appointed free counsel, and it isn't from a regular private attorney. Rather, the attorney will be a public defender. For many defendants, a public defender is the only way they can get counsel. If you absolutely cannot afford a private attorney under any circumstances, this may be your only option. But if you can find or borrow the money for a private attorney, you might want to think twice before trusting a public defender with your case. Although public defenders are attorneys in their own right, there are some key differences between public defenders and private attorneys that every criminal defendant should know about.
A public defender is a court-appointed lawyer. Defendants who are found indigent (i.e. unable to afford basic necessities) can get a public defender at no cost. Public defenders work for the court. They are assigned cases as they come in and are often overworked. Meeting with a public defender isn't like meeting with a private attorney. Public defenders have little to no personal investment in your case. They are there to inform you of your charges and the consequences you could face if you plead guilty or are convicted. They will also provide reasonable defense efforts in your case if you have a defense. Public defenders may also work hard to get a criminal defendant to resolve the case before it reaches trial because it is often in the court's interest to resolve the case before trial.
Private attorneys are lawyers whom you pay for. They work for you, not the court. In this respect, they have your best interests in mind and don't do anything to save the court time or money. Private attorneys vary in cost depending on the location and the experience of the attorney. Many charge hourly or flat rate fees. Private attorneys will inform you of your charges and the consequences you face. A private attorney will also advise you of your rights and help you defend them. Private attorneys can provide defense efforts if you want to fight your charges in trial, or assist you with resolving the case before trial. You get to choose what route you want to take, but, most importantly, a private attorney will take the time to advise you on your chances of success. This can help you make the best decision possible.
As you can see, a big difference between public defenders and private attorneys is whom they work for. A public defender works for the government, the very government that is prosecuting you. Though they will help indigent defendants navigate the criminal prosecution process, many don't have the time or motivation to fight aggressively on your behalf.
Private attorneys, on the other hand, work for you. They will make the time to best serve your interests and will fight for your rights in court because you are paying them to. Private attorneys do cost money, but they can save you the costs of a criminal conviction. In retrospect, many people who had public defenders help them and then were convicted regret the decision to not hire a private attorney. Often, the cost of fines, fees, and other sentencing requirements far outweigh the costs of an attorney to fight your charges.
Speak with a criminal defense attorney if you are facing charges, even if you have a public defender. Consulting with a private attorney can give you an idea of what you can do to really fight your charges and not just deal with your case. A private attorney can advise you of your rights and help you determine whether your public defender is doing all he or she can. Even if you decide to not hire an attorney, speaking with one about your rights can help you approach your case with more confidence.
Are you facing criminal charges? Contact attorney Christopher Martens and his team for legal help in Tulare, Fresno or Kings County. Specializing in criminal defense, Mr. Martens can help you strategize a defense for your case. With over ten years experience in criminal defense, Attorney Martens has taken over 50 cases to trial and will not be afraid to do the same for you. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.