Should I go with the Public Defender for m y Criminal Case?
As a criminal defense lawyer, I hear this a lot. In the state of California (not everywhere) there is a Public Defender system in place in each county. In all counties, anyone charged with a felony gets appointed a public defender at the arraignment UNLESS they have an attorney to represent them. In some counties, the same is true for misdemeanors, but in others you don't get a public defender until your second hearing. I've personally witnessed people in jail not getting a public defender for misdemeanors in Orange County, Imperial County and San Bernardino in the last six months.
Every public defender is different, as is every private attorney, so it makes no sense to make those kind of statements. There are amazing public defenders and shitty private criminal defense attorneys. That said, all the California public defenders are organized by seniority. So, for example, you know that you are going to get an attorney at the "class" of your crime. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, your attorney will have between one and five years of experience, and then for felonies it will be more than that.
Public defenders typically have a much higher case load than comparably experienced private lawyers. A private criminal defense lawyer may have one or two cases a day, a public defender will have 10 in the same time frame. Private criminal defense attorneys typically have at least a receptionist who can take calls, public defenders do not. Which is all to say that all other factors being equal, a private criminal defense lawyer will have more time to handle your particular case than a comparably experienced public defender.
Most people who use a public defender do so because they either can't afford a private criminal defense lawyer, because they think they can't afford a private criminal defense attorney or because they can afford a private lawyer but they think it's a "waste of money."
The first two reasons are best addressed together. You can find a (not necessarily a good) private criminal defense lawyer who will do a misdemeanor for 500 dollars, and there are some that will take felonies for little more. Many criminal defense attorneys today will take credit cards or work with clients on payment plans. Felonies are likely to be more expensive, but again, many lawyers will work with clients on payments and will take credit cards.
People are often reticent to reach out to their support network for help with a criminal case, but I can honestly say that having a criminal case is a prime reason to reach out for help. You should consider the "cost" of having to go to court yourself (on a misdemeanor) and the value of avoiding stress beyond what is reasonable under the circumstances.
So, if you absolutely can't come up with any money, you will get a public defender, eventually. If you are in that third group (have the money but don't think it's "worth" it), I think the common mistake here is equating the value of a criminal defense attorney to "beat" the case or "get the case dismissed." This is what I call "magical thinking." Like doctors, criminal defense attorneys can't guarantee results, so if that what you want, and you find one who will say that, you've by definition managed to hire a shitty attorney.
The value is in the time a private criminal defense lawyer will spend with you explaining the time line, the game plan, the twist and turns of your particular case. Most private defense criminal defense lawyers will literally take all the time you need to feel confident and comfortable, most public defenders will not, simply because they do not have the time in their busy schedules.
Do you have questions about a specific situation? Feel free to give me a call.
Here is a recent post I wrote about how to hire a reputable criminal defense lawyer.