Private Attorney Vs. Public Defender: Which Is Better?

Interviewer: I see. What would be the difference between I guess hiring a private attorney over someone getting a public defender? Or, for that matter, someone trying to even represent themselves?

Glen Malia: First of all, there's an old legal expression, "Only a fool basically represents himself" Even lawyers don't represent themselves. To represent yourself is a real, real, real mistake and it's a mistake for several reasons. Number one is the prosecutor is an experienced attorney. The likelihood of you knowing the court and you knowing the laws, you knowing the system, is extremely small to begin with and you knowing it better than a prosecutor is almost non-existent. Number two is, as the defendant, you are emotionally involved. You can't look at the facts and you can't look at things and make a non-emotional evaluation of the best course of conduct to follow. That is sometimes the best thing that an attorney is going to be able to tell you is say, "Hey, look, yeah, weren't you telling me, maybe you're going to win at trial but if you lose, you're going to go to jail for this long period of time."

An Attorney Who Represents Themselves Has a Fool For a Client

The better alternative is to say, “Even though you may think you have a good defense, a better alternative may be to take a plea because the evidence is likely to get you convicted.” The average person is not going to be able to really factor that out because they've got the emotional bond of, "I'm not guilty and I'm going to fight this." No one should ever represent themselves. The expression is, "An attorney who represents themselves has a fool for a client." That's the old legal expression. Now, the difference between hiring a private attorney or using a public defender, in many respects using the public defender in many instances will not have an adverse consequence. I will speak highly, most public defenders, that's the only thing they do is criminal defense work, and they know the criminals, they know the laws, they know the courts, they know the prosecutors just as well as the retained attorney, the attorney that you're going to hire.

A Public Defender is Often Burdened With a Heavy Caseload and Cannot Devote Enough Time to an Individual Case

In many respects, using the public defender is better than hiring an attorney who doesn't devote a large percentage of his or her practice to doing criminal defense work. If you're going to hire your real estate attorney to represent you on a criminal matter, you're probably better off using the public defender because your real estate attorney doesn't know the law as well, has never tried a case perhaps, doesn't know the court, doesn't know the prosecutors, and these are all very important factors. You may be better off using the public defender than hiring an attorney that doesn't know what they're doing in the criminal courtroom and doesn't devote a lot of his practice to the criminal law. That being said, the biggest, biggest difference between using the public defender and hiring your own attorney is probably the amount of time each attorney can devote to your case. The private attorney is going to be able to devote much more time to your case generally than the public defender. The public defender, when they come to court, they may have 20 cases they have to deal with that day whereas the private attorney, you may be the only case.

Public Defenders Will Not Utilize All of Their Efforts On An Individual Case

He may have a couple of cases, but he's certainly not going to have the caseload the public defender has. The private attorney is going to be able to work up the case much better. He's not going to sit down there. Unfortunately, sometimes public defenders, because they're doing so much criminal defense work, they've got to move their cases. I don't want to say will swap cases, but you know what? Won't put the real strong effort into plea bargaining Case A that they could because they've got Case D or Case E, which they know they maybe have a stronger case on and they want to make sure they get the deal on that case, whereas the private attorney is going to use all of his efforts, all of his best efforts on your case and your case alone.

A Private Attorney Is Obliged to Make His Best Efforts To Obtain a Favorable Outcome

They're not going to swap cases. "Oh, well, I'll tell you what, I'll plead guilty as charged in this case so you give me a deal on that case." That doesn't happen a lot with public defenders but sometimes it does, and you never know. The other thing is when you're hiring your own attorney, you could make sure that the attorney you hire is experienced in criminal defense work. A lot of public defender are brand new out of law school. They're just starting practicing, and they don't really know what they're doing and you don't know that until you get that public defender. It's never too late to hire your own attorney, but by that time you've lost the opportunity to really maybe have the case investigated properly and built up properly and handled the way it would best be handled for you.

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