So there you are, in a court of law for the first time in your life. You look around and think 'everyone here knows what they're doing...except me'. Finally, after waiting for what felt like a lifetime, the judge says your name. You stand, walk to the lecture and you here the dull buzz of the judge saying a bunch of words and then finally one ends with a question mark. "Would you like me to appoint a public defender to represent you in your case?"
For many people who end up in court the entire day is a blur and very little is explained. What is a public defender? Do I have to be appointed one? What other options do I have? If I don't get a public defender will I be on my own? These questions and many more usually rush through the minds of individuals as they sit in court waiting their turn. Well if you're reading this then you're already way ahead of those other people, and we'll give you all the answers you need right here.
What is a Public Defender?
A public defender is an attorney that has been hired by the government to represent individuals that cannot pay for their own attorney. Before being appointed a public defender you will have to prove to the court that you cannot afford a private attorney for yourself. This proof usually comes in the form of an affidavit you fill out and sign, swearing to the court that you make a certain amount of money, etc. If you do not qualify for a public defender then your options are to represent yourself, or hire a private attorney. If you do qualify for a public defender then you still have the options to represent yourself, or hire a private attorney.
Public Defender v. Private Attorney
There are many differences between the experience of being represented by a public defender or being represented by a private attorney. Public Defenders are sometimes hired by the government to work as a public defender full time, meaning they only work in that court and don't do any other work on the side. In other situations, public defenders are private attorneys that have been hired on a contract basis to work in that court part-time.
Regardless of the public defender setup in an individual court the reality usually is that the public defender is swamped with cases. What this means is that when you are at court and you're being represented by a public defender, then you're simple one case in a stack of cases that that attorney has to deal with that day. Additionally, public defenders usually don't have the time or resources to be available to their clients outside of court on a regular basis, such as returning phone calls or writing emails.
On the other hand, if an individual has a private attorney that they have hired for their case then usually that attorney is only helping them while at court. That means you're getting personal service and all the face time and question answering you want. Also, when you're not in court, a private attorney has much more time and availability to take your calls and ease your mind about the stresses that inherently arise in any criminal case.
What Should You Do?
The best thing you can do is contact a private attorney as soon as possible to get more information about what your options are. At Peterson Legal we offer free consultations so it doesn't cost you anything to become a little less clueless to the criminal defense process. Additionally, if you'd rather email or text, we are happy to communicate with you in that way as well. If you are not sure if you can afford an attorney then we can let you know how important or not important it is to have a private attorney on your case. In most cases its worth the temporary sacrifices you need to make to hire an attorney to protect your future. Give us a call today to find out more!