What Can I Expect From a Public Defender?

If you were recently arrested for a crime, and now you are considering using a public defender as your legal counsel, it is important for you to know what to expect if you choose a court-ordered attorney. Continue reading to learn what a public defender is, what they do, and what to expect when being represented by one.

Court-Appointed Attorneys

A public defender is a court-appointed attorney that is paid by the government to represent defendants that are incapable of affording private legal counsel. Generally, they are given to those facing jail time for misdemeanor or felony charges. Although they are fully-qualified lawyers, public defenders often carry a stigma implying otherwise. They have the equivalent training and licenses and extensive courtroom experience that private lawyers do. But this does not mean they should be a first choice for someone facing serious criminal charges.

Accepting a Public Defense Lawyer

After an arrest, a court hearing called an arraignment will be scheduled. This is a defendant’s initial hearing in which their criminal charges will be read to them by a judge, and then they will be asked to plead ‘guilty‘ or ‘not guilty‘ to their charges. For those with private counsel, their attorney will already be present. As for all others, the arraignment hearing is when a defendant will be given the opportunity to accept a public defender.

If a defendant replies yes to a public defender, one will be appointed to them for the duration of the arraignment only, or until they can prove they are indigent. Eligibility requirements for public defense varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some courts may require defendants to provide fee estimates from multiple private law firms, along with proof of financial records, to prove they cannot pay for private representation. While other courts simply take a defendant’s word or allow them to choose regardless of how much they earn.

Private Lawyers

Public defenders have a much heavier caseload compared to private lawyers. This means they do not have very little time to spend on each individual case. For this reason, it can be risky working with one. If you are facing criminal charges and possible jail time, you want to invest in an attorney who can dedicate 100 percent of their time and attention building a defense against your charges. They are the professionals who can afford to put time into protecting your rights and preserving your freedoms.