How is the public defender appointed in criminal cases, and will there be any cost?
The public defender's office is appointed by the court only for those who are financially unable to retain private counsel. This means that if you own a home or just have a decent full-time job, the court will tell you to retain your own private criminal attorney. Note that you will have to fill out your financial information under penalty of perjury to apply for the public defender. Additionally, even if the court finds you initially financially eligible for the public defender, you will still be ordered to pay for the public defender's services at the end of your case if you are found by the court to have the ability to pay for even part of your publicly financed defense.
Will a public defender be as good as privately retained defense counsel?
There are indeed some excellent public defenders, but you will not have a choice as to which specific lawyer you might get. You will also have to personally show up in court at every proceeding and wait your turn with all of the other public defender-represented clients (clients with privately retained counsel may have their attorneys appear in their absence in misdemeanor cases). Regrettably, all public defender's offices are understaffed with attorneys who must deal with staggeringly high, difficult caseloads. By contrast, even a busy private criminal lawyer has only a fraction of the cases that each public defender must unfortunately shoulder. Both private counsel and deputy public defenders each have only 24 hours in a day. Do the math.
Should I go to the trouble and expense of hiring private defense counsel if I may be eligible for the services of the public defender?
The bottom line is that if you can afford an experienced privately retained defense attorney who is not handicapped by a huge caseload, it should be obvious that this would be in your best interests to retain one. This is in no way to be construed as a disparagement of the dedication or abilities of public defenders' offices. What is meant is that a privately retained, experienced defense attorney will have more time, and in many cases, more resources to spend on your case, and this can be crucial in the final outcome for you, the client.