State appointed attorney's

Asked about 5 years ago - Hawthorne, CA

So my boyfriend was issued a state appointed attorney and I was wondering if State appointed attorneys were as bad as public defenders and if we should get him a private attorney?

Attorney answers (8)

  1. Carolyn Annette Elsey

    Contributor Level 15

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    Answered . State attorneys are no different than private counsel in any kind of case. Some are fantastic lawyers who do what they do so they can help people who can't shell out hundreds of dollars per hour. In fact, in some settings I would want to have a public defender rather than a private attorney. I've seen private lawyers, who I know are bleeding their clients for jumbo bucks per nano-second, who come to specialized courts and bumble around trying to appear important to cover for the fact that they don't really know what they're doing.

    I disagree strongly with the first answer. Just because you are forking over hundreds of dollars per hour doesn't mean you are getting top-quality representation. I have known many lawyers who fleece clients only to dump them once the money runs out. When you are paying such insane hourly rates as quoted above, you may be paying for great legal skills or you may be paying for someone's secretary, fabulous vacations to places you can't afford, private school/college for the lawyer's children, or simply their super-nice automobile. "You get what you pay for" in this life applies only to wine, cheese and tobacco.

    A lot of criminal defendants bellyache about public defenders only because they have crummy cases they can't win. Any lawyer who has to be the bearer of bad tidings is often considered sub-par. But you have to think about the fact that private lawyers who want to make as much money as possible from you before the case is done have a huge financial incentive to make you want to fight it out in court because that's what keeps their cash register ringing.

    If anything, experience matters the most. A private counsel newbie reaming you at $300+ per hour is just as useless and wet behind the ears as a public defender newbie who took the job because the economy stinks. It is completely appropriate to ask any lawyer how many years have they practiced in a particular area of law, how many trials they have done, their professional philosophy about litigation and their expectations about a case.

  2. Jonathan H Levy

    Contributor Level 20

    Answered . I have to disagree with my colleague slightly. In California, public defenders provide legal representation to those unable to afford a lawyer in criminal, juvenile, mental health and dependency cases. If you can afford an attorney, you are supposed to hire one. Given California's budgetary problems, I have no faith in the ability of the state and its county's to deliver the finest in legal representation to indigents, the budget just is not there. A lot of full time criminal defense attorney double as alternate public defenders, hiring one of these attorneys privately may be a good choice as they work in the system daily but also handle private pay clients.

  3. Alexander Thomas Henderson

    Contributor Level 11

    Answered . So far no one of my learned colleagues has answered your question: Whether 'state appointed' attorneys are 'as bad as public defenders' and whether you 'should get him a private attorney'. So allow me to respond to the call of your questions:

    1. Are "'state appointed attorneys' as bad as public defenders"?

    Your question proceeds from two false assumptions: The first is that there is such a thing as a 'state appointed attorney'. The second is that public defenders are bad. The term 'state appointed attorney' derives from a jail myth perpetuated by 'jail house' lawyers. These are usually county jail inmates with big mouths and small brains who purport to instruct the younger inmates in adjoining cells on the finer points of criminal law and procedure. Their ubiquitous and curiously consistent bad advice has given rise to certain enduring and immutable myths which include such favorites as: "When the cops ask you what the baseball bat in your car is for, tell them 'self defense' . and "Always ask a customer if is he/she is a cop before selling him/her dope because if they lie then that's entrapment and they have to throw your case out". And the all popular: "If the public defender tells you different then tell the judge you want a 'state appointed' attorney."

    “What” or “who” a 'state appointed attorney' is has been a matter of some speculation. The courts usually inform defendants seeking a 'state appointed' attorney that the public defender is 'state appointed' to convey to them the idea that the state (or government) is footing the bill for the lawyer. The defendant's meaning is probably something different. Sometimes the defendant means that he wants a 'panel attorney', an attorney who is usually in private practice and who accepts court appointments when the public defender and/or alternate public defender declares a conflict of interest or is unavailable. The final theory is that the judge is holding a cadre of attorneys employed by the state, as in, 'State of California' who are unencumbered and enormously more skillful than their over worked and underpaid county public defender equivalents.

    So no, Virginia, there is no Santa Clause and no 'state appointed' attorneys to come save your boyfriend from the evil, corrupt and incompetent public defender.

    Now to the second assumption: "Public Defenders are bad". Well Virginia this is a real myth that deserves some debunking. Yes there are bad public defenders. Public Defenders are a lot like days. There are good ones and bad ones. The reason why public defenders have such a negative reputation has more to do the quality of their clients than the quality of their legal skills. When a client is out of custody, washed, dressed in clothing that does not smell, able to form a rational thought and articulate it simultaneously...well then Virginia, getting a successful or at least satisfactory result on a case is much much easier. But when your clients are all stuck in a cage, deprived of sleep, dirty, inarticulate, and either a victim or perpetrator of the current jail house mythology, well then your odds drop precipitously. Its important to remember that public defenders are lawyers who are trying their damned best to liberate their clients. They are not, as the jail house lawyers would suggest, in bed with the prosecution. Public Defenders and prosecutors generally are not that friendly but there is a certain professional decorum which exists between them notwithstanding their adversarial relationship. This decorum is often misinterpreted to be collusion. The truth is that most public defenders are head and shoulders above their prosecutorial counterparts in intelligence, compassion, and legal skill. The prosecutors win more often because their witnesses are professionally trained police officers and the civilian witnesses coached by professionally trained police officers who are then judged by Judges who used to be prosecutors and who routinely (answer continued)

  4. Alexander Thomas Henderson

    Contributor Level 11

    Answered . (answer continued) The prosecutors win more often because their witnesses are professionally trained police officers and the civilian witnesses coached by professionally trained police officers who are then judged by Judges who used to be prosecutors and who routinely make calls in their favor whether it supports the truth and justice or not. Public Defender witnesses tend to resemble their clients.

    2. Should you hire a private attorney? If you enter a dark room with a random selection five public defenders and a random selection of five private criminal defense attorneys odds are that the worst public defender will be a better lawyer than the best private attorney. That being said there are compelling reasons why, if you can find and afford a skilled and talented private attorney, you should do so. The most compelling of these reasons is simple statistics. If you hire a private attorney the chances are that on your boyfriend’s court date that attorney will have only the one case in that court that day. That gives the attorney the focus of getting the best disposition possible for his one client in that court. One of the real problems with being a public defender client is that one is inevitably one of many clients which that public defender must represent that day in that court. So no matter how good the public defender is, he/she has to spreads themselves out to cover the numerous cases they are likely to have before the same court on the same day. This dilutes the focus and attention of the public defender. This dilution of attention and focus does not occur so much with private counsel. BUT CAVEAT EMPTOR (buyer beware)..there are many many many unscrupulous private attorneys out there holding themselves out to be skilled practitioners and who are little more than hacks. Referrals from someone who has hired the attorney before is the best assurance of quality. Check the Avvo rating, check the state bar, and Google him/her before hiring. The aorst mistake you can make is hiring a bad lawyer…good luck.

  5. Jonathan H Levy

    Contributor Level 20

    Answered . I think everyone is missing the point - if you can afford an attorney, you are supposed to hire one, public defenders specifically exist to defend indigent defendants. You have the right to appointed counsel if you cannot afford to hire one yourself.

  6. Alexander Thomas Henderson

    Contributor Level 11

    Answered . No, Mr. Levy.

    That is your point.

    Not the point of the question.

    And your point is misinformed.

    The issue is not whether a person has family or friends (or in this case a girlfriend) who can hire an attorney. The issue is whether the accused himself is indigent. If his family is 'willing' to hire a lawyer then he can choose between that option and the public defender. That's the law. At least in California.

  7. William N Howell

    Contributor Level 10

    Answered . as you can see from other responses, the answer here is subjective and likely based on one's experience in particular jurisdictions and courts. my two cents added would be this: in specialty courts, or with special misdeeds(sexual crimes/DUII/crimes with sanctions enhanced by special facts) a defendant or a delinquent youth needs to have an attorney who knows as much as there is to know about those crimes/sanctions/courts. that may be the court appointed attorney in some jurisdictions: the lawyer who has done a hundred sexual assault cases in the previous 5 years. and it may NOT be the retained lawyer who has done but two. on the other hand, many attorneys train to a specialty: they do DUIIs and that's all they do, and they know every case on the subject reported since the beginning of time. asking good hard questions is the way to sort it out. i have, on many occasions, seen persons throw away a perfectly good and experienced court appointed lawyer, going with the retained lawyer hired by aunt gertrude who hasn't done a sex abuse case in 15 years.

  8. Howard Woodley Bailey

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

    Answered . All attorneys go to law school and pass the bar before they are admitted to practice law. Whether a lawyer is good at what they do, does not depend on who they work for. If you have the means to afford a $350-$550 hr lawyer for him, you should do it as you know the lawyer will be top-drawer in what he/she does, simply because you are paying that kind of money. On the other hand, you may want to check out the State-appointed attorney before you shell out the money, as many of the State-appointed and Public Defender Lawyers I know can stand to-to-toe with me and my peers in the private criminal defense bar. Good luck.

    DISCLAIMER
    This answer does not, nor is it intended to, create an attorney-client relationship; or, constitute either legal advice or attorney advertising. Rather, given the nature of this forum, it is offered solely for information purposes, as a starting point for you to use when speaking directly to a lawyer in your State. Do not assume that the legal conclusions I mention that pertain to NJ are applicable in your State. Since the facts of each case are different, it is critical for you to consult with qualified counsel with whom information can be shared and assessed under an attorney-client privilege, so that competent advice can be obtained on which you can make informed decisions. Contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer admitted to practice in your State before making any decisions about your case.

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