The ins and outs of working with a public defender

For many, an arrest is already an unexpected and expensive cost that can be difficult to afford and the concept of hiring a lawyer on top of it all may not be feasible. For this reason, public defenders exist. A public defender is a court-appointed lawyer who is tasked to represent defendants who cannot afford to hire a private lawyer, and while this may sound ideal for anyone looking to save money, there are some hurdles to jump through and things that need to be taken into account. Here is what you need to know!

Defendants have to be approved

One thing that tends to surprise many defendants is the fact that a public defender is not actually just automatically appointed to a case. In fact, a defendant has to be approved after applying for one, and even then, it could be for a subsidized cost as opposed to the courts covering the entire expense. In order to be applicable for a public defender the defendant must show that they are in financial need of subsidized services so that people who have the resources to actually hire a lawyer do not simply opt for free or discounted representation. This is done by showing income amounts and declaring what resources they already have available. If the income and resource amount falls into a certain bracket then the courts will come back with the defendant’s responsibility of what the cost will be. People at or very close to the poverty line will most likely not have to pay.

You do not get to choose your lawyer

A major benefit of being able to work with a private lawyer is having the opportunity to pick whom you want to work with and finding one who specializes in the types of charges you are dealing with. When it comes to public defenders, unfortunately, this is not an option. When the court grants a defendant a public defender they will simply assign someone who can take on the caseload and little else will be taken into account when deciding what lawyer will go with whom. This can be a bit disadvantageous when someone is in need of a lawyer who may have very niche knowledge of a certain type of law, but it can also be beneficial in the fact that these defenders tend to know the jurisdiction like the back of their hand. These lawyers have most likely faced the same judges countless times as well as opposing councils which gives them a wealth of understanding of how the systems work. What they may lack in type-specific knowledge, they make up for in sheer experience.  

Public defenders are extremely busy

The last thing to really understand about public defenders is that most are extremely overworked.  Since the court will often assign many cases to a single public defender, it is impossible for them to fully focus on a single case. This can sometimes feel frustrating to a defendant who of course will feel like they need their lawyer to prioritize their case for the defendant to get the best outcome but the fact of the matter is there are only so many defenders to go around and they often have many to represent. Now, this is not to say that they will not do their best to represent their client, but it does mean that a lot of times they are spread thin and will most likely not be afforded the same amount of time to study a case a private lawyer would.

To conclude, public defenders provide an invaluable service to those who cannot afford representation and while they will do everything in their power to best represent the side of their client, they may also have a more general knowledge of the law and be facing steep caseloads. While hiring a private lawyer may be of benefit to those who may seek more specialized knowledge or need more one-on-one time with their lawyers, public defenders are still great options for those most in need.