If you’re faced with a serious criminal charge, you’re going to need an attorney. If you can’t afford one, then the court will appoint public defender. Is this the right choice or can it actually end up costing you your freedom? It depends on a number of factors.
First of all, a public defender is a criminal attorney appointed by the court to defend those that cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Most public defenders are within the first five years of graduation from law school and are using this position to gain experience. For minor criminal charges involving jail time, a public defender is probably all right. However, if you’re looking at years in prison, then it’s best to figure out a way to hire a lawyer. Speak with your family and friends to see if they will help.
There really is no substitute for an experienced criminal attorney. For serious cirminal charges, you can expect to pay quite a bit for the retainer and for other expenses, such as court costs, copying, and any experts, if needed. Some cases can cost thousands of dollars, even hundreds of thousands of dollars, to defend. If you’re not able to pay for this, then you will have a public defender.
Some judges will appoint a criminal attorney to work “pro bono.” This means that they work for free. There are several lawyer associations that offer their services on a sliding scale, too, which means that the amount you pay is based upon your income. Unfortunately, most of these associations are only found in the larger cities. However, if you can qualify to use one of these lawyers, you’re probably better off than using a public defender. If the judge does appoint a pro bono lawyer to defend you, it’s really a coin toss as to whether you’re getting a good lawyer.
In closing, if you’re charged with a serious crime, it’s time to get a great criminal attorney. The public defenders, while quite capable, are usually overwhelmed with clients. The time they can spend on your case may be minimal, which means you may not get the best representation. You can find a cheap lawyer who just graduated from law school, but experience is what will get your case a favorable outcome. Unfortunately, you can retain the best criminal attorney that money can buy and still end up going to prison. It all depends on the evidence and witnesses against you, how the prosecutor presents the state’s case, and ultimately, the verdict from the judge or jury.