In the United States, anyone charged with a crime who cannot afford an attorney has a constitutional right to have an attorney appointed to him by the government. Many people argue that you get what you pay for and that a private criminal defense attorney is better than a public defender. But just how much can money buy?
Whether to Hire an Attorney
Public defenders are only available for people who meet the right financial requirements. Many people may have too high of an income to qualify for a public defender but they don’t know if they should retain their own attorney. While private defense attorneys may be expensive, anyone accused of a crime is strongly discouraged from representing himself in court. While hiring an attorney may not make a criminal charge disappear, an attorney has a much better chance of getting the client an acquittal, a reduction in charges or a good plea deal than the defendant would have if going pro se, the Latin legal term meaning “on one’s own behalf.” An ordinary citizen would be likely to struggle with navigating the legal proceedings and technical jargon. Appeals courts are also less likely to grant a review of criminal cases that are submitted pro se.
Public verses Private
Some defendants may be in a position where they qualify for a public defender but they have the option, possibly by incurring debt or turning to family for help, of hiring a private attorney. Other people accused of a crime may be wondering whether they should hire an attorney as soon as possible or wait until their arraignment to request a public defender.
Consulting an attorney upon arrest can be beneficial to a defendant’s case. Anyone put under arrest should invoke his right to speak to an attorney before speaking with the police. If the accused chooses to hire a private attorney, he would be able to meet with this attorney before going to court. This could help the attorney familiarize himself with the case and give the client advice before the court hearing. Public defenders are often overwhelmed with cases, in some jurisdictions more than others. A public defender will typically only spend a few minutes reviewing a case in court and have little time to discuss it with the client. While a good public defender would be better than a bad private attorney, defendants have no choice in which public defender is appointed to their case. If a defendant has little money and is unable to hire a quality private attorney and he can qualify for a public defender, it may be advisable to stick with the public defender.
How Much is a Private Attorney Worth?
As alluded to above, hiring a private attorney may not be worth it if it would be a financial burden to the defendant and he does not feel like he can find an acceptable private attorney. But is a more expensive attorney always going to provide a better service? High-paid criminal defense attorneys can still be bad litigators. By consulting a couple different defense attorneys, a client may be able to develop a sense of what to expect from his counselor in terms of care, professionalism and skill.
Personal prowess aside, an attorney who charges more may also be able to afford more resources. If an accused person is facing a criminal trial, the ability to hire independent experts or track down a witness could prove to be essential. A wealthy client may also be able to hire a larger defense law firm, which means that he would have more attorneys who could dedicate time to the case. An attorney who cannot afford support staff or associate attorneys may have trouble following every possible lead; within a limited amount of time, one attorney can only do so much. With more manpower, a defendant may have a higher chance of acquittal.
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Austin Faux works at Wolf Law Firms by day, and by night I’m back home with my family. When at home with my family I’m usually trying to help my wife relax, playing with my two kids, or I’m messing around on my nerd podcast, “I Am A Super Nerd.” Find me on Facebook.
Originally posted 2013-08-29 21:38:24.