A lot of people who are charged with a criminal offense qualify for the assistance of a public defender. While this might be a cheap or even free way to represent yourself in a criminal proceeding, you should carefully consider whether public defender representation is in your best interests. After all, there are some risks associated with it.
The risks of public defender representation
There are a lot of competent public defenders out there, but you won’t get to choose your attorney if you’re appointed a public defender. Instead, you’ll just be assigned an attorney, which means any of the following could come into play:
- Limited attention: The public defender that you get is probably going to be overworked and underpaid, which means that he or she is going to be focused on managing his or her caseload as efficiently as possible instead of managing each case as effectively as possible. This could be one reason why those represented by public defenders often take plea deals.
- Poor communication: Similarly, since your public defender will be overworked, he or she might not keep contact with you. This can leave you in the dark as to the status of your case, and you might not be able to play as active of a role in your criminal defense as you would like.
- Inexperience: A lot of public defenders are new to the practice of law. That’s not always a bad thing, but it does mean that they oftentimes aren’t as sharp on the rules of evidence, case law, and the trial rules as many experienced attorneys are. This can leave you at a distinct disadvantage.
- Lack of resources: Depending on the complexities of your case, you might need resources outside of what a public defender can offer you. This might include an expert witness or a private investigator. Both individuals can help you gather evidence to support your defense, and they can be powerful witnesses in court.
- Lack of choice: As we mentioned above, you’ll be assigned a public defender. This means that you’ll have no say in who will represent you and fight to protect your future. Are you comfortable with that gamble? Keep in mind that even after appointment it can be extraordinarily difficult to get rid of a public defender. He or she will only withdraw if allowed to do so by the court, which will only occur in very limited circumstances.
- Limited practice: Public defenders are only able to guide you in your criminal case. If you have any issues that arise later, whether they be civil or administrative in nature, that attorney isn’t going to be able to do anything for you. Additionally, if you end up facing a probation violation later, then you might not be represented by that same attorney given the high turnover at most public defender agencies.
Secure the representation that you need to fight the prosecution
Prosecutors are going to do everything in their power to obtain a conviction. That’s why you need an aggressive criminal defense that is thorough in its efforts to poke holes in the prosecution’s case. While a public defender might be right for you, he or she might not be, and there’s simply too much at stake to risk your future on a free attorney that you have no say in choosing. That’s why you need to be diligent in assessing your representation options and choose the one that is best for you.