By law, if a court finds that you can’t hire your own attorney, they will appoint an attorney to represent you at little or no cost. Attorneys appointed to represent clients in this way are referred to as “Public Defenders.” There are two types of public defenders in the court system: full time and part time.
Full time public defenders are just that: they’re attorneys employed by a county public defender agency and that’s their only job. Full time public defenders are much more common in large cities and metropolitan areas, where it’s much more likely that the court calendars are going to be heavier. Part time public defenders are much more common in smaller communities. A part time public defender is an attorney with their own private practice who has a contract with the court system to accept appointment of public defender cases when needed. They keep track of their hours and turn an accounting sheet in to the judge at the conclusion of the case, and are paid out of the county budget.
Public defenders get a bad reputation as not being “real” attorneys, and I want to make VERY clear that this is absolutely unfair and not true. There are many excellent public defenders out there, just like there are many terrible private attorneys out there. Public defenders go to the same law schools that private attorneys go to and the pass the same Bar admissions exams. In fact, like we mentioned a few moments ago, in a smaller community with a part time public defender, your public defender IS a private attorney.
The major difference between a public defender and a private attorney is usually the amount of time that can be devoted to your case. Here in Indianapolis, it’s not uncommon that a misdemeanor public defender may have 50-100 unique cases PER DAY. That’s an insane caseload. With that many cases, it’s incredibly difficult to pay specific attention to the needs of any individual case. That doesn’t mean that they don’t care; in fact, most people who work as full time public defenders do so because they care about doing the right thing so much that they willingly subject themselves to that type of mental and physical abuse. But at the end of the day they’re still people, and there’s only so much that they can do to stay on top of everything.
Given the number of cases that a public defender has to be responsible for, and the fact that your freedom is on the line, you do owe it to yourself to at least speak with a private attorney and see whether you can afford private legal services. The one thing that you DON’T want to do is make the public defender put a lot of work into your case only to decide to hire a private attorney months later if you don’t like the work that your public defender has done. In addition to not being fair to that public defender, you’re making it a LOT harder to get yourself a better result because the prosecutor handling your case was under the impression that the negotiations were final, and your new attorney will need to come up with some pretty complex arguments to get you a better result than what you’ve already got on the table. You can always hire a private attorney whenever you want, but you need to do it as soon as possible.
At Razumich & Associates, our goal is to make sure that each of our clients receives the personalized attention that their cases deserve so that they can make the best possible decisions on important matters affecting their future. We personally meet with everyone who sets an appointment with our office, and we will take as long as necessary to make sure that every question you have is answered as completely as possible. That’s our promise to you: we’re Lawyers Ready to Fight, and we look forward to fighting for you.