What Is the Difference Between a Private Attorney and Public Defender?

Posted On May 22, 2023 Criminal Defense

If you have been arrested or charged with a crime in Arizona, you may wonder whether you should hire a private criminal defense attorney or use a public defender. While a public defender is often cheaper, there are many other factors to consider besides cost alone. Depending on the charges you are facing, your future could be on the line. It may be in your best interest to hire a private attorney.

Definitions: Private Attorney vs. Public Defender

A public defender is a lawyer who is employed by the government to represent defendants who are unable to afford to hire private attorneys during criminal trials. A private attorney is in private practice, meaning the attorney works for himself/herself and represents individuals on a private level rather than through the government.

Resources and Availability

Since public defenders are paid for at public expense, this can limit the resources available to the defender compared to a private law firm. In addition, public defenders are typically given multiple cases to work on at the same time. Large caseloads can limit the public defender’s availability and ability to communicate with his or her clients. You may only be able to speak to your public defender at your court dates. You can contact a private attorney, on the other hand, whenever you want updates about your criminal case.

You Cannot Choose Your Public Defender

With a private defense attorney, you have the privilege of choosing the lawyer that best suits your needs. You can attend free consultations with multiple attorneys to determine which is right for you. You can hire a criminal defense attorney who specializes in your type of case, for example, such as DUI defense or violent crimes. Conducting your own research and having the freedom of choice can give you greater peace of mind and confidence in the ability of your defense attorney.

If you are appointed a public defender, you do not get to choose who represents you. You will be required to stick with whoever the courts have assigned to you, even if you and your public defender do not see eye to eye or do not have the same goals for your case. If you are unhappy with your public defender, you must wait until after your case has been completed to file an appeal based on “ineffective assistance of counsel” to seek a retrial with a new attorney. There is no guarantee that your appeal will be granted.

Only Certain Parties Qualify for a Public Defender

The constitutional right to counsel states that if a defendant cannot afford to pay for an attorney, one will be provided. This means that only certain parties qualify to receive public defenders – those without the financial means to afford private attorneys. If you wish to be assigned a public defender, you will have to fill out and submit a financial affidavit with all of your financial information. A judge will review this document to determine whether you qualify for a public defender based on economic need.

Public Defenders Are Not Always Free

It is a common misconception that public defenders are always provided by the courts for free. This is not the case. You may still have to pay a fee for the services rendered by your public defender. The amount of the fee charged – if any – is determined based on your ability to pay. It could be significant, depending on your financial means, the complexity of your criminal case and how much work it will take to resolve. If you are required to pay for your public defender, it may benefit you to compare the cost (and the services you will receive) with hiring a private attorney.

For more information, read this brief here.

Which One Is Right for You?

When results matter during a criminal case, it is generally wise to hire a private defense attorney to take your case rather than relying on a public defender. You will benefit from one-on-one attention, exceptional legal resources and an aggressive litigator who has your best interests in mind if you hire a private attorney. To schedule a free consultation with a private criminal defense attorney in Arizona, contact the Law Offices of John Phebus at (623) 400-5675.