Are public defenders not as good as private criminal lawyers?

Asked almost 3 years ago - Los Angeles, CA

I have a public defender in LA currently. It seems like this guy really knows what he is doing. I feel like I can trust him but everyone close to me says that I should hire a private lawyer. He is on this website I just noticed. He is young, has been practicing for four years and he has a lot of swagger. The judge seems to respect him and I overheard the DA telling him that if he wins on bail, she will listen to whatever he wants. Should I hire a private lawyer, or does it seem like this public defender will do a good enough job? I have the money but the court appointed me this public defender because I was in custody. Now that this public defender got me out of jail and seems eager to fight my case I don't know if I should have a hire a private lawyer to take over or stay with him. ?

Attorney answers (8)

  1. Chris J Feasel

    Contributor Level 17

    14

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Your public defender sounds like a great person. Public defenders are professional lawyers just like the rest of us, but with (argueably) bigger caseloads. If you feel comfortable with your attorney stick with them. That's good advice no matter what the situation.

    Mr. Feasel is a former Deputy DA in the SF Bay Area with over 10 years of criminal law experience. Nothing stated... more
  2. David Jon Pullman

    Contributor Level 19

    10

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . While I don't generally consider swagger to be a good trait in an attorney, the fact that you feel good about your attorney is the most important factor to consider. In my experience, public defenders are every bit as good as private attorneys and sometimes a lot better. There are some really terrible private attorneys out there, but very few bad public defenders would be able to keep their job for very long. The advantage to hiring a private attorney is that they have more time to communicate with clients and more time to focus on each case. But, if you feel that your attorney is communicating to your satisfaction and focusing on your case, then I would say save your money and go with him.

  3. Antonio Arturo Cota

    Contributor Level 14

    9

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Public Defenders are often very good at what they do. And, just as with any other lawyer, some are better than others. It is foolish for people to pre-judge their attorney solely because they work for the Public Defender's office representing indigent clients. Whether or not a private attorney could get as good or better result in YOUR case is impossible to tell without a file or facts for us to review. (You would be foolish to post facts related to your case here, where DAs can read it.)

    I don't generally tell people to switch horses in the middle of the race, and see no reason why you should do that now if you are happy with his performance, satisfied that he has the respect of the judge, and most importantly, if you trust his guidance, judgment, and skill.

    If you have the ability to pay, at the end of your case, the court will probably assess your financial situation and determine how much (if any) you need to pay. The PD is only free for people who are actually indigent. But, in any case, if the PD does a great job defending your case, you ought to be happy to write that check.

    That said, there is no law that prohibits you from obtaining a second opinion, but you'll need to pay for the consultation probably (if you don't, how will you know you're not just getting a sales pitch?) and you'll need to get a copy of the file for the attorney to review.

    No attorney-client relationship is established between this lawyer and the originator of the question. This answer... more
  4. Robert Lee Marshall

    Contributor Level 20

    9

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Here's what the California Court of Appeal has to say about public defenders:

    "It is almost a truism that a criminal defendant would rather have the most inept private counsel than the most skilled and capable public defender. Often the arraigning judge appoints the public defender only to watch in silent horror as the defendant's family, having hocked the family jewels, hire a lawyer for him, sometimes a marginal misfit who is allowed to represent him only because of some ghastly mistake on the part of the Bar Examiners..."

    (People v. Huffman (1977) 71 Cal.App.3d 63, 70,fn.2.)

    Please understand that this is a general discussion of legal principles by a California lawyer and does not create... more
  5. Andrew Blair Leventhal

    Contributor Level 8

    7

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Coming from a public defender here, so my answer may be bias. Listen, lawyers are human beings just like doctors. Some are good and some are bad or just don't care about the client but rather care about other things not connected to the substance in your case.

    If are lucky enough to have a public defender that really cares and knows what he or she is doing, then save your money and keep him or her. Otherwise, hire a private lawyer that you PERSONALLY feel comfortable with, because private lawyers are not better than public lawyers just b/c they are private. Often times, public defenders are better lawyers because they have more day to day courtroom experience with the same judge/same prosecutor(s) and more experience doing jury trials. But, lots of private lawyers have equal if not more experience, ESPECIALLY IF THEY WERE A PUBLIC DEFENDER before going private.

    In short, the answer all depends on how you feel about the lawyer you have - Don't hire a private lawyer just b/c you can; hire a private lawyer b/c you feel she or he is best suited to meet your case goals.

    It is however a flat out myth to say that public defenders (public criminal defense lawyers) are not as good as private criminal lawyers. It all depends on who you get. The only difference between public and private is that you do not get to choose who your public lawyer is, while of course you can choose which private lawyer you want to hire. So, if you get lucky and land a public criminal lawyer that you feel will do a great job, then keep him or her and save your money. Public defenders have just as many if not more resources (paid for by the county) to investigate and fight your case properly, but they may not have investigators or support staff that is as hard-working and good as a private lawyer's support staff. But note, some private lawyers do not even have a support staff. You do not want to hire a private lawyer than runs a mill.

    The point is - stick with someone you personally feel comfortable with. And if you have that and can have that on the county's dime (but for nominal court fees) then you are lucky.

  6. Michael Charles Doland

    Contributor Level 20

    6

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . You are seeking strangers to "bless" someone they have never met (your public defender.) He sounds wonderful, and since you appear confident in him, unless you receive indications to the contrary about your public defender (nor "public defenders", from people who probably got their information from television) I would advise staying with the person who acts and appears competent.

    The above is general legal and business analysis. It is not "legal advise" but analysis, and different lawyers may... more
  7. Tai Christopher Bogan

    Pro

    Contributor Level 18

    6

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Here is my advice. Stick with who you feel comfortable with. If you are unsure about the attorneys skills - why dont you sit in the courtroom when that attorney handles other cases - such as motions or maybe other trials.

    There are great attorneys with 4 years of experience and there are bad ones There are great attorneys with 30 years of experience and there are bad ones.

    The above information does not establish an attorney client relationship nor is it meant to provide legal advice.
  8. Andrew Blair Leventhal

    Contributor Level 8

    5

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . To add to the debate on Huffman fn.2, how about this quote:

    "Public defenders stand alone, armed only with their wits, training, and dedication. Inspired by their clients' hope, faith, and trust, they are the warriors and valkyries of those desperately in need of a champion. Public defenders, by protecting the downtrodden and the poor, shield against infringement of our protections, and in reality, protect us all."

    Hightower v. State, 592 So.2d 689, 692 (Fla.App. 3 Dist.,1991., Gersten, J., dissenting).

    But yes, once again, I agree that it comes down to the person not their title. Who's better requires an individual analysis.

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