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Public defender of Private attorney?

Tempe, AZ |

I am a 20 yr old college student who works part-time (poor) . I was charged with an extreme Dui. I was charged with a BAC of 1.8, being underage, and driving in the bike lane. My question is can the outcome be different with a private attorney, or am I better off asking for a public defender? There were 5 charges total listed on the ticket. I know I have to pay fines , etc. I am just trying to keep my head above water and stay in College. this is my first offense of any type.

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Attorney answers 12


If you can afford a private attorney, contact some find out what their fees and payment plans if they have any. If you feel comfortable with that person hire them. If you can't afford an attorney it does not matter which one is better you have to use a public defender. If that is the case, at the first court appearance go, plead not-guilty and ask for a public defender. I don't think that anyone can say what attorney can get you the best outcome. Each case is specific and each lawyer has his/her own plan and course of action they will take with a case.


Really, the only decision to make regarding public defenders is whether you can afford someone of your choosing or not. When you hire a private attorney, you can vet him or her, and make sure his or her personality, work style, bedside manner, etc., is a good fit for you. If you cannot afford to hire a private attorney, one will be appointed for you, and you won't have much say in who it is.

I have no knowledge personally of Arizona's requirements for getting a public defender, but if you are really struggling monetarily, it is YOUR RIGHT to request an attorney be appointed to defend you at no charge.

As for whether the outcome will be different, allow me to dispel a myths.

Some people think that public defenders work where they work because they are not good enough attorneys to make it in the private world. This is simply not true. Public defenders are very often extraordinarily dedicated to public service, and choose to work as a public defender because they believe in the rights of people like you to a solid, zealous defense whether you can afford it or not.

There is also a general conception floating out there that public defenders are underpaid and overworked, and just won't have the time to dedicate to your case. Heh, whether they are indeed underpaid and overworked depends on the location of their office, and there are public defenders who, if the world were ideal, would be paid much for the invaluable services they perform. But a public defender will not necessarily brush you off, or just try to close your case as quickly as possible. If for no other reason, than because there are ethical considerations, namely, an attorney must fight zealously for his or her client, and, for instance, if a client demands a full jury trial, that is the client's right and the client's call.

I have also found that people tend to think that a private attorney who charges a lot of money must necessarily be worth what he or she is charging. Hopefully, that's true. But it's not necessarily true, especially if you don't personally "click" with your attorney.

Moreover, there can be advantages to working with the public defender. Public defenders work only in the county of their offices. They are intimately familiar with the workings of that county - the clerks, the judges, the prosecutors. Sometimes, they have insights a private attorney might not, if, for instance, that attorney's practice has a wide radius across a state or across state boundaries.

Ultimately, you cannot know whether you will be better off with a private attorney or a public defender. It depends on your case. Sometimes the best of cases on paper are lost, and the worst are won. There is no correlation between private vs. public attorneys on that scale.

What you need to decide is whether you can afford to shop for an attorney. That is the main advantage to having money. Picking the attorney with whom you are most comfortable. But if you cannot afford one, it is your right to have one appointed to you. And that appointee is duty-bound to do his or her best fighting for you.

Good luck!

Dear Asker: This answer is not legal advice, and I am not your attorney. But if you want me to be, I'm a phone call away: (503) 227-0965.


You're looking at five charges and a very serious criminal offense. Forget that you're poor and focus on your future. You got to fight this thing with everything you got. Get the best private lawyer you can find. That's not a knock on the PD. There is just too much at stake to entrust your case with someone who cannot give this matter his/her undivided attention!

This response is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The response is intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between Mark D. Copoulos, Esquire and any party. The responses provided on this website are offered only for general informational and educational purposes. They are not offered as and do not constitute legal advice or legal opinions. You should not act or rely on any information contained in these responses without first seeking the advice of an attorney.


I have seen many excellent public defenders though most of them are overwhelmed by the workload that they are presented with. I would still look at hiring an experienced DUI attorney, as they can best elevate your chances of a more favorable outcome (or mitigating the damages of an unfavorable one). These are pretty serious charges and the stakes are high. You may find the investment to be worth it. Most will offer you a free consultation and many will offer installment payments. Best of luck.

This is only an Avvo answer. I am not getting paid to give this response and am basing this response only on the information provided to me in the above question.


Try this.

Attorney James R. Fox If you found this answer helpful, let me know by clicking the "Mark as Helpful" button at the bottom of this answer or select it as Best Answer. It’s easy and appreciated. This response is intended to be a general statement of law, should not be relied upon as legal advice, does not create an attorney/client relationship and does not create a right to continuing email exchanges.


Private. Give a few a call. If you want to find one here on AVVO select "Find a Lawyer" at the top of the page. Good luck.

This is not intended as legal advice. No attorney / client relationship exists because of this response.


As a former prosecutor I have a unique perspective as I dealt with both private attorneys and Public Defenders (PD's). Considering your financial status my suggestion would be to apply for a Public Defender and see if you have a good initial meeting with him/her. The reason I say this is some PD's are great, but usually they are inexperienced but ernest and hungry. Where as a private counsel generally has more experience and may have a good working relationship with the DA's. There are some issues you must consider, for a top notch DUI defense you can expect to spend about 10k or more, this may get you a better result but honestly depends on your case facts and it may make no difference whatsoever. Considering everything, but primarily the financials I would suggest speaking to the PD about your concerns and if you feel comfortable with them then its all good. If not get a copy of your discovery from the DA's Office and then look for well regarded DUI attorney and have them look at your case and evaluate if there would be anything they can do for you (not their sales pitch but what the realistic expectations are) if they are no different then the PD's then you are not in a financial position for a long shot.


It is true, you may get a PD that does a fine job. Depending on what court you are in, sometimes the appointed attorney IS a private attorney who is contracted to represent cases appointed to them. Many attorneys and firms accept payment plans, accept credit cards, and can cost as little as $2,000. In addition, although you may be appointed a PD, they are not always free, sometimes you have to contribute for their services as well. You should apply for a PD and determine if you feel comfortable with him/her. After receiving discovery you can easily find an attorney who provides a consultation at no cost and may be able to tell you what they can do for you. However, the court may still require you to contribute to the cost of the PD even though you retain a private attorney. You will need to inquire into this possibility if/when appointed a PD.

Also, a private attorney will handle the MVD hearing. A DUI involves both the court and the MVD. If your license has not already gone into suspension, a private attorney can request a hearing on your behalf, investigate your case, and then proceed accordingly. Meanwhile your license will not valid while you wait for your MVD hearing. The MVD hearing is an important part of your case. A PD generally will not deal with the MVD.

Also, there are steps you can take after the resolution of your case, that you may want a private attorney for. For instance, if you take a plea, but later complete all that the court order of you, you can have your attorney file a motion to set aside the conviction.

While there are perks to a PD, there are also benefits a private attorney has over a PD. Call around and find attorneys with free consultations, then attend your court date and apply for and meet your PD.

Michelle L. Bell

Michelle L. Bell


Correction/ typo: Meanwhile your license will BE valid while you wait for your MVD hearing.

Robert Francis Gruler Jr.

Robert Francis Gruler Jr.


Very thorough and well thought out answer.


DUI laws and statutory punishments are the same for everyone. The real difference between a PD and a private atty is the amount of time they may have to focus on your case... and experience. A private atty is going to dig through your case a little more closely to see if there are any arguments to me for suppressing the stop etc... but your going to pay for that. A PD just doesn't have that same kind of time. Having said that, if the stop was valid and there are no questionable elements to the police interaction, you're going to get the same deal with a PD as you would with a private lawyer... and if the problem is obvious, then a PD is going to catch it anyway (maybe even if it's not so obvious). Ask yourself where you want the money to go to... getting the fines and fees paid off sooner (they are going to be hefty!)... or the private atty. There is no wrong answer on this one.


I think you know the answer to that question.


The major benefit of hiring a private attorney to handle your DUI case is the fact that your private attorney is going to also handle your Department of Motor Vehicle case (if you didn't know it already, you have to government agencies to deal with). The Public Defender will only handle you court case and has no ability to handle the DMV matter. Most private attorneys include the DMV as part of the cost of representing you on the DUI case.


If your car broke down and you were running late to an important exam or job interview, would you a) take the bus or b) get a cab?

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