One of the greatest provisions of the US justice system is the right a fair trial. Under US law, you are entitled to a fair trial regardless of the crime you were accused of or your inability to afford legal representation. That means that if you find yourself accused of a criminal offense and are unable to afford a lawyer, the court may appoint one for you.
In theory, the practice of appointing lawyers to those who lack the means or resources to afford them is a great idea. This provision was enacted to protect the poor from being unjustly sentenced due to their inability to hire a defense attorney. If you are short on cash or simply trying to be frugal, a free attorney may seem like a tempting offer.
In practice, however, there are many problems with our public defense system and many drawbacks to using a court-appointed attorney.Click To Tweet While many public defenders are outstanding lawyers who genuinely care about their clients’ rights, there are many limitations that come with choosing this type of defense.
Staggering caseloads. In general, public defenders work long hours for very little pay, and are assigned a staggering, often overwhelming number of cases at once. At any given point, a public defense attorney could be handling as many as 200 cases, and more than a thousand cases annually. One investigation found defenders with a total annual caseload of more than 1,600 cases.
With such excessive caseloads to manage, many attorneys are unable to truly get to know a client’s case. Oftentimes, they are unable to even meet with their client before the trial, let alone investigate the case, gather evidence, or locate witnesses. Without adequate defense, you are far more likely to be unfairly convicted, subject to harsher penalties, and face lifelong consequences.
By contrast, any private attorney of repute will hand-select each of their cases to ensure they are able to give each and every client the attention they deserve. A top criminal lawyer can invest all his time, energy, and resources in your unique case, ensuring your rights are protected and drastically increasing your chances of a positive outcome for your case.
Lack of choice. When you elect to use a public defender, the court chooses the attorney who will represent your case, allowing you little to no say in the matter. Unless you can demonstrate a very good reason for wanting a different attorney, you will be forced to work with your attorney even if you don’t see eye-to-eye or feel uncomfortable around him or her.
However, when you choose to work with a private attorney, you’ll be able to research and interview many different attorneys until you find one you trust. With a bit of research, you can find the best lawyer for your case by choosing one with experience defending your particular type of case and a track record of success in that area.
Lack of resources. Public defender offices are underfunded and understaffed, so they lack the resources and tools necessary to defend clients. Faced with limited resources and budget cutbacks, many court-appointed lawyers simply don’t have the means to properly investigate the facts of your case.
However, a private attorney is not bound by public legislature budget restrictions. An expert criminal defense attorney may be backed by innovative tools and the best resources available, as well as a staff dedicated to investigating your case and providing you counsel. A private attorney may have access to private investigators, chemical testing laboratories, and expert witnesses, as well as associate lawyers they can call upon to help with your case.
Not everyone will qualify. In order to qualify for a court-appointed attorney, you must be charged with a serious criminal offense. You will not be provided with a court-appointed attorney if your case deals with civil or administrative matters.
To apply for a court-appointed attorney, you will have to submit an application that demonstrates you are unable to afford your own attorney, with information on your financial situation and assets. The clerk of the court will then review your application to determine if you qualify, and may deny you if you do not meet certain financial criteria.
In comparison, a private criminal lawyer is able to defend people from all walks of life, regardless of the crime they’ve been accused of or their failure to meet certain criteria. An expert criminal defense attorney can protect you against all types of charges, and can be recruited as an ally with a mere phone call.
When it comes to criminal defense, the saying is true: you get what you pay for. Don’t cut corners on your freedom and future—contact a seasoned Illinois defense lawyer today.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.