Should You Get a Public Defender? The Truth.
Updated: Oct 6, 2022
In the interest of full disclosure, I had a very brief stint with the Maricopa County Public Defender. It forever changed my perspective on the "Public Defender", what they do, how they operate, and how little love the world has for them. The question I hear most often is, "should I ask for a lawyer?" The answer, as usual, is . . . it depends.
First, let's talk about what a P.D. is. Essentially, it's a free, or nearly free, attorney that helps those in need with their criminal cases. Way back in Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court said that the state MUST provide you with an attorney if you cannot afford one. Enter...the public defender.
Second, let's dispel a couple of myths: A P.D. does NOT work with the State or the Judges. Although this conspiracy theory is prevalent In Maricopa County, and throughout the state of Arizona, it's quite the opposite. It's much more like a Red Sox/Yankees rivalry. Also, a P.D. DOES care about your case. But they don't have the time to hold your hand, or call you every other day to check in. I left the P.D. in the beginning of 2021, and I still check in on my old clients' cases to see how they're doing. Because I came to deeply care about what my clients were going through.
Now the question remains, should you get a public defender? Here are a couple of basic questions to ask yourself before answering that:
Have you had the opportunity to speak with an attorney at this point in your case?
If you've found yourself standing in front of a judge for the first time, following an arrest, you should absolutely ask for an attorney. Never go it alone on your criminal case.
2. Can you afford to hire an attorney?
This is a question the court will ask after you've requested an attorney. You'll be expected to provide financial information so they can determine whether you're eligible for a P.D. But remember, whether you can afford an attorney or not...never handle your criminal case by yourself. You'll want an attorney as soon as you can get one. Sometimes that means calling a loved one before your initial appearance and having them hire an attorney for you, so you're not standing in front of a judge alone. It's a very important moment in your case. If you're not sure . . . ask the court to appoint you an attorney.
What are the pros and cons of having a P.D.?
There are several pros: They know their respective court systems very well. Better than most other attorneys. They also know who the prosecutors and judges are. So they're keenly aware of how much to push for. Oh, let's not forget the cost. It's generally zero or nearly zero. Finally, you'll have peace of mind that you're not adrift in the ocean that is your criminal case.
What are the cons? The biggest one is the attention paid to your case. A private attorney will likely devote exponentially more time to making him or herself available to answer your questions and update you as your case progresses. That means you can meet with them on a regular basis, not just the morning of your court date. A private attorney (especially at a smaller firm) will have a much smaller caseload, meaning much more time to devote to getting you the best possible outcome. This means more time to scrutinize the facts surrounding your criminal case, more time to push for discovery items, and more time to prepare.
So, whether you should hire an P.D. or not depends on many things, from your financial situation, to your expectations. Finally, if you're not sure you can afford a private attorney, grab a copy of our Free Guide. If you're still not sure, call us and let us walk through your case with you. We fully understand and appreciate the cost associated with hiring private counsel and remember . . . you're not alone.