Public Defender vs. Private Attorney: Which Option is Better for You?

Interviewer: Starting off simply, why hire a private attorney to defend your charges? Could you compare when someone represents themselves versus hiring a public defender versus hiring a private attorney?

Zach Peagler: Yeah, I don’t think, unless it’s a parking violation or in some cases maybe even speeding tickets, almost never do I think it’s advisable to represent yourself. You’re not trained in the procedures of the law, so even if you think you have direct evidence that will prove that you’re not guilty of the charges, even being able to navigate the procedural minefield in court to even get that evidence admitted can be very difficult. Attorneys can help you in that way, if not others. Then, you oftentimes also don’t even understand what all evidence may be available to you to try to prove your innocence. Going in there by yourself is just staring down the barrel of a loaded gun.

Then, as far as the public defenders are concerned, there are a lot of really good lawyers in our public defender’s office in Jefferson County, but you have to prove to the court, by way of affidavit, that you’re indigent – that you cannot afford to hire your own attorney – before the court will even agree to let the public defender represent you, and in some lower level cases, they won’t let him represent you even if you are indigent, because you’re not under the threat of serious jail time for your offense. There are a lot of steps involved in being allowed to let the public defender represent you.

Then you have to weigh the factors, too, about how many cases a public defender may have on their case list, so the amount of time and resources that they’re able to devote to each case, and so if you have the financial wherewithal, I think it’s important to talk to a private attorney, get the costs, and then weigh that against how much individual attention you want devoted to your case. That’s not only to say that the public defender’s office has high caseloads. You also want to talk to the private attorney and say, “How many cases do you have going? How much time are you going to be able to devote to my case?” and get a game plan from that attorney about what they plan to do to try to work your case as best they can.

You don’t want to end up in a situation where you pay an attorney a retainer and then you don’t hear from them or see them until you show up in court. That’s not the most advisable way to go about trying to defend a criminal case.

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