Should I go with a public defender or hire a private attorney?

Every citizen has the right to have an attorney represent them if they’ve been charged with a crime. If you choose to hire an attorney to represent you (and it is NOT advisable that you represent yourself), you will have two options: hire a private attorney or allow the state to appoint a public defender to represent you.

The Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) reported that the 40,000-45,000 indigent defense cases per year represented by public defenders were less than 15 percent of all cases statewide. The Texas Observer, however, reported in October 2015 that the TDIC had reported the state-appointed counsel in 71 percent of felony cases and 41 percent of misdemeanor cases the prior year.

In August 2019, the Texas Tribune reported that there were approximately 474,000 indigent cases in Texas during the previous fiscal year. According to the Tribune, there are 39 counties that rely on 19 public defender’s offices, but many counties contract with private lawyers.

If you are currently debating whether to allow a public defender to represent you or if you should hire a private attorney in the greater Dallas area, we’ll discuss the pros and cons below.

The experienced criminal defense lawyers of the Law Offices of RJ Harber want to help you make an informed decision, so know that it will cost you nothing to speak with us and get more information about your case, how we can help you, and how much it might cost.

Don’t dismiss the possibility of hiring a qualified, experienced attorney who can make a difference in your case without talking to us first. Representation might not be as expensive as you think, and if the end result is a lesser charge or a dismissal versus a possible conviction, you might agree that paying for representation is 100% the right way to go.

We know that you likely have questions, and we’ll be happy to answer any that you have when you call (214) 389-1189 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

Pros and Cons of Public Defenders

A public defender took the same bar exam as a private lawyer and might have even gone to the same law school. The public defender works for the government and represents whomever is assigned to them.

A public defender rarely makes as much money as a private attorney even though they may handle far more cases in any given year. The average caseload for a public defender is usually quite large, and they rarely have any extra time to do much legwork for the cases they are assigned.

A public defender is almost certainly a capable lawyer, but they do not enjoy the same freedom to operate that a private attorney enjoys. The result is that a public defender is usually powerless to employ certain tactics that they know could be beneficial to a case, usually because of time constraints.

An additional concern with a public defender could be how often they appear in a given courtroom, as regular interactions with certain prosecutors or judges may mean that the public defender defers to the importance of those relationships rather than your own case. Prosecutors wanting convictions may be more able to procure guilty pleas from defendants with public defenders than those with private lawyers.

The Dallas County Public Defender’s Office is the largest public defender office of its kind in the entire state of Texas. As the second-most populous county in Texas, the Dallas County Public Defender’s Office handles more than half of the indigent defense criminal cases in Dallas County.

Requesting a public defender will require you to complete an Affidavit of Indigence and Request for Court-Appointed Attorney. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 1.051(b) defines indigent as meaning “a person who is not financially able to employ counsel.”

Remember that asking for a public defender does not mean that you are going to automatically be appointed one. The court is going to seriously consider your financial situation, and it may rule that you are capable of hiring a lawyer.

The major advantage of a public defender is that they are going to cost you nothing. The major disadvantage will be that you are not going to have any kind of meaningful relationship with your public defender, often experiencing difficulty getting them to return phone calls and struggling to speak to them personally for more than a few minutes.

Pros and Cons of Private Attorneys

The private lawyer offers you pretty much the opposite of the expectations of a public defender. While a private attorney is going to cost you money, they are also going to be able to give you a far greater level of personal attention.

You should not always assume that you can’t afford a lawyer, either. Speak to an attorney to get an idea of not only what they charge, but also what payment plans they might be open to. Many people who immediately assume they are incapable of affording a lawyer are shocked by how easily they are able to work the costs into their budgets.

Unlike the public defender, the private attorney has the power to decide which cases they want to handle. This freedom will usually limit a lawyer’s caseload so they can have the time to investigate cases and actually speak with clients, providing regular updates.

The additional time to perform legal legwork can be more beneficial to your particular case, especially if an attorney is able to procure something that allows them to negotiate a better plea agreement than a public defender would have been capable of. Having a private lawyer may also make a prosecutor more nervous about taking your case to trial because the prosecutor will know that your attorney has much more time to prepare than a public defender.

When you speak to multiple lawyers, know that increased costs do not necessarily translate to better case outcomes. Your private attorney decision should always be based on the person you feel most comfortable with and you believe will be most qualified to handle your case.

It is also important to note that if you are dissatisfied with a public defender for any reason, it will be far more difficult to have a court reassign your case. When you work with a private lawyer, you are always free to stop using them whenever you want.

Contact a Private Attorney in Dallas Today

You might be convinced that hiring a private attorney is your best option for your criminal case in Dallas, but you might not know how much it will cost or what payment plans might be available. Don’t be afraid to speak to a knowledgeable and understanding criminal defense attorney from the Law Offices of RJ Harber today.

Our team wants to hear from you, and we want to help you with your criminal case. Call us at (214) 389-1189 or fill out a contact form online to receive a consultation from us right away.