My advise to clients is always to go with someone you feel comfortable with and who you believe will best represent you. If you feel that the public defender is not the best person to represent you, then you should hire a private attorney. Although you may be low on funds at the present time, many private attorneys will work with you and offer payment plans.
As for taking the case to trial with the public defender and banking on being able to appeal it after, this is a risky choice. Although you can appeal a case, it does not necessarily mean that the ruling will be reversed, and you will be granted a new trial. The appeal may be denied (many of them do) unless there are specific issues that occurred in the trial.
About going "pro per," you can also do that, but it is highly discouraged because you will be going up against a prosecutor who is a licensed attorney and who has had years of education as well as training and experience about these types of cases that you have not had yourself.
Going to trial without a lawyer is usually a bad choice. If you are not comfortable with the lawyer assigned to you by the public defender's office, you can either try to schedule an appintment with the lawyer and talk through your concerns or attempt to hire a provate lawyer.
The decision to take the stand and testify during a trial is totally up to you. If you think you may do yourself harm by testifying, you are probably right. You should make an appointment to express these concerns to your public defender and find out why he or she does not share your concerns. It may be the public defender does not know exactly what you are concerned about unless you have discussed it directly. Make sure to be explicit about your concerns, you may have solid grounds to be concerned that the public defender may not know about unless you have that explicit discussion.
While you do have the constitutional right to defend yourself, it is rarely wise. You point out that your public defender doesn't have the experience or expertise that you feel an attorney should have when handling a DUI case. Do you? The thing with new attorneys, especially in the public defender's office, is that they often discuss their cases with more senior attorneys and are able to get help and guidance where they need it. Often, they are conferring with attorneys who have done DUI cases in the hundreds. Chances are that you do not have regular access to that type of resource.
Only you can decide if you wish to take the stand in your own defense. You cannot be compelled to testify by either side. You have the ability to assert your right not to incriminate yourself under the Fifth Amendment. Your attorney is familiar with your file and the facts of your case. Talk to your PD. Approach him or her in conversation, rather than accusation of what you think they don't know. Find out why he or she is thinking this way and go through the pros and cons with them. Carefully consider your choices after this discussion. In the end, only you decide.
I often see or hear people complaining about being assigned new attorneys. Yes, newer attorneys have less time in the courtroom. But quite often, they are more passionate, more eager to go to the mat in every case, and more likely to ask for help when they need it than some more seasoned attorneys.
As far as not having the knowledge a more specialized DUI attorney would, I don't believe your instincts are entirely correct. The PD's office has no shortage of DUI cases. Because of the amount of DUI cases that most PD offices get, they usually have a great number of resources, guides, books, seminars and teachers on the subject.
DUI law, litigation, and trials are actually very complex beasts. If done properly a "simple" DUI trial can take upwards of 4-6 court days [or more depending on issues.]
Your right to not incriminate is absolute as is your right to take the stand. However, if you feel uncomfortable for any reason then it may be wiser to not take the stand and find an alternative means of defending yourself. There are many ways to skin a cat.
In my humble opinion, someone right out of law school has no way of being properly prepared to fully create a defense based on the science and or conditions under which the DUI event occurred. They cannot be prepared because they do not have requisite knowlege either experientially or from an information perspective.
Appealing after trial is usually an uphill battle if issues have not been properly preserved before the start of trial and during trial. Again, in my opinion, someone just out of law school would not be trial savvy enough to preserve issues prior to the start of trial and during trial - thus making your appeal moot.
Most private attorneys will take paymanet plans and you are entitled to a defense that allows you to be completely comfortable and thus receive effective assistance with your issue(s.) You would be surprised at how reasonably priced a thorough DUI defense can be, it may be more affordable than you think. Good luck.
Not knowing the entirety of your situation and without a full understanding of the facts, etc. this advice should be taken as general advice and not specific to your situation. You should fully consult an attorney before reaching a decison as to what to do. Good Luck!
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