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Criminal Defense Attorneys - Public or Private

Updated on August 31, 2009

Can I Afford One

If you have ever been in trouble with the law you know you need to find good legal representation. What you don't know is whom or how to hire the best criminal attorney you can afford. If you are indigent or make less than a certain amount a year you qualify for free legal representation. The evaluation process involves the disclosure of financial assets including property you may own and income and debt information. You always have the option of hiring a private criminal defense attorney if you can pay for one. Although always a challenge if you don't have the money to pay, in checking around you will find some very reputable defense attorneys willing to accept payment arrangements.

If you make over the predetermined amount to be considered indigent, you have no choice but to start searching for a good criminal lawyer to handle your criminal case.

Hard at Work

The Public Defender

Public Defenders are Attorneys paid by the State to defend those lacking the funds to hire a private counsel. Public lawyers have the same qualifications and education and hold the same bar license as private attorneys. They are just as knowledgeable and competent in law matters. The big difference is the heavy case loads they are assigned. Understanding statistically that a good percentage of the impoverished population fall into a life of crime then its easier to see how these public defenders become overburdened with state cases. Although they may want to spend a little more time on your criminal case especially if they detect real injustice, time just doesn't allow. Public defenders are not known for litigating cases much. They most likely will try to get the best possible plea bargain offer for you from the States Attorneys office and present you with it. In working in this manner they are able to move cases along more expeditiously and quickly close out files . They don't get paid any more or less for taking a case to trial. If it is what you want they will inform you of the pros and cons about facing a jury trial. Bottom line the ultimate decision always rests with you as to which way to proceed. 

The Private Attorney

Hiring a criminal defense attorney doesn't have to be a daunting experience. You can look through your local phone book to locate the best criminal attorneys in your area. If you get a referral from someone make sure it comes from a trusted source like family or friend. You can always check with the State Bar in your state to make sure no complaints are on file for the attorney you have in mind.

A good idea is to make appointments with several attorneys and visit a few law offices before you decide on one . It will serve to shed some light on that attorneys punctuality, organizational skills, general work environment and work ethics. It is very important for you to feel comfortable with your attorney and feel like you can ask questions and get resonable answers. The first consultation is always free so why not take advantage of that. Ask questions that are relevant to your criminal case and get a feel for what that particular attorneys view is. More likely than not you will get different views from different attorneys. This is actually pretty normal given the fact that some of the views will be based on the law while others are based on experience. There really is no one course of action on handling a criminal case or any guarantees in the court of law, for you to expect otherwise would be unreasonable. There are always too many unknowns and uncertainties. The most you can hope for is an honest, hard working and reputable criminal attorney.

Hiring a local attorney is also a good idea . Hire someone from the town having jurisdiction over your criminal case. Attorneys just like you and I have friends and colleagues, people they work with on a daily basis. Many times knowing the players on both sides can be advantageous.

Criminal defense attorney prices are varied. They will quote you upon reviewing your case. Different factors are taken into consideration -- like the actual charges filed, how many charges pending, if the criminal charge is a misdemeanor or felony, if you have no criminal history or if you have past criminal history with same or similar charges, if you are on probation, whether you are willing to accept a plea offer or whether you want to go to trial . Everything will have a bearing on the price of your criminal defense. If you are expecting a plea offer you should voice it to your attorney. Being specific as to what you expect and can live with always helps. Obviously going to trial incurs more time, preparation and expenses - therefore you can expect a higher legal bill.


Plea Bargain and Trials

For small infractions and misdemeanor cases a plea bargain might not be such a bad idea. Both public and private criminal defense attorneys can work out plea offers with the prosecutor. Past criminal history normally plays a role as to what the state is willing to offer . Some people stick to their ideal of fighting for the "principle of the matter” vs accepting a plea offer. Back in the day I might have been one of those people . Knowing what I know today and knowing that there is a chance of losing a trial and the sentence always being worse than the plea , I would weigh my decision a little bit more carefully than in the past. Its no longer so much about the principle as it is about staying out of jail. As much as we like to believe in the justice system I hate to say it but it is not always just.

If you are facing felony charges, especially for the first time, you need to be aware of the potential long life repercussions a conviction  may bring. Having a felony record could jeopardize your whole future . If convicted , felons are barred from applying for many jobs including government jobs and careers in the military , they have no voting priviliges and are stripped of their right to bear arms. Having a good criminal defense attorney in this situation is a must. Although sometimes plea bargains can be worked out to have felony charges reduced to misdemeanors , there is always a chance you might have to fight the charge by going to trial. Hire the best defense attorney you can afford. If you need to go to trial someone with trial experience is highly recommended.


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    • Bail Up ! profile image

      Bail Up ! 5 years ago


      I have to agree with you. I too would go with a private attorney. Just do your homework and settle for one you feel you communicate with best and like. You can also research and ask around to check their reputation.

    • heleineoman profile image

      heleineoman 6 years ago from Los Angeles, California, USA

      I'd choose a private defense attorney. To whom will you entrust you future?Of course to someone who have the ample time to devote on my case. Public defenders often have a lot on their minds.

    • zainab-s profile image

      zainab-s 6 years ago from Pakistan

      very informative!

    • Bail Up ! profile image

      Bail Up ! 7 years ago

      Colorado Defense Attorney

      Very true. I sometimes wonder how some attorneys got their degree. I've met a handful of questionable ones not to mention the borderline crooks. Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      Colorado Defense Attorney 7 years ago

      It all depends on who you plan to hire. Paying a private defense attorney is no guarantee of quality representation. Any warm body with a law degree can hang out a shingle and call himself a criminal defense attorney. In fact, many of those who can't get a job at the public defender do just that.

    • Bail Up ! profile image

      Bail Up ! 7 years ago


      I'm glad to hear that. Sometimes PD's get a bad rap since they are over burdened with cases. I know of a few awesome ones myself. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • profile image

      Nicole 7 years ago

      My public defender took the case to trial and beat it. He was extremely knowledgable and did a better job than my first private lawyer.

    • Bail Up ! profile image

      Bail Up ! 8 years ago

      My choice as well !

    • profile image

      Attorney Charlotte NC 8 years ago

      Definitely a Private Attorney!