Is the public defender on my side?

Whenever a person finds themself in need of an attorney things can feel scary. You don’t know what to expect. For many of our clients in criminal cases there’s a fear of jail time and the stigma of having a criminal case on their record. There’s also the fear of whether a public defender will meet your needs.

The truth of the matter is that public defenders tend to be excellent criminal lawyers.  The New Hampshire Public Defender program recruits nationwide. Most of its attorneys have strong academic backgrounds, and are dedicated to fighting for the rights of the indigent. Most intentionally chose to work in the non-profit arena, making considerably less than they could have made working for a private firm.

The biggest downside to public defenders has nothing to do with their integrity or skills as a lawyers, it’s their caseloads.

Determining whether a public defender is a fit for your needs and case will depend upon many factors.

  • The ins and outs of your case – how complicated is it?
  • Your income – do you qualify for a public defender?
  • The resources needed to give you the fairest representation needed – a private attorney can usually bring in specialists and experts in various fields that may be needed to fairly represent and plead your case.
  • Attention and time needed – a private attorney can offer you more time so that when you have questions or concerns you can bring them up to them and get answers quickly.
  • Satisfaction – a public defender is paid by the courts, whereas a private attorney is hired by you. This means that when you hire a private attorney you are in more control of communication and circumstances because those attorneys are being paid by you as opposed to taxpayer dollars.

What is a public defender?

A public defender is a fully licensed lawyer whose job is to fairly represent what are known as “indigent defendants” in criminal cases. A person who is legally indigent is simply someone who cannot afford to pay for an attorney. Our U.S. constitution states in the Sixth Amendment that states cannot legally prosecute a person who is legally indigent unless they’re provided with an attorney.

This is why many states have public defender offices that include lead defenders and several assistant public defenders depending on the size of the county or area being represented.

Public defenders are paid by your taxes, just as judges and police officers are. With that in mind, the role of a public defender is to make sure you are represented to the best of their abilities. Public defenders are experienced because they’re regularly in the courts dealing with criminal cases.

Public defenders also have positive relationships with the prosecutors, judges, and others in your district.

Asking For a Public Defender

If you don’t believe you can afford a private criminal attorney, then you’ll need to request one. Once you request one, the courts will want to confirm whether you meet their financial requirements to qualify for a public defender. You may be required to swear under oath that you do not have the financial resources to afford an attorney.

Choosing Your Public Defender

Public defenders are there to serve you, however, you cannot choose your public defender. Your public defender will be assigned to you based on the case load among defenders in your district. Sometimes public defenders rotate assignments  and, as a result, you may work with multiple attorneys who are being kept up-to-date on your case.

Should I use a public defender?

We can’t tell you what to do. You have to make the best decision for your needs and for your family. With that in mind, it’s important to remember that public defenders are on your side. Most public defenders are highly skilled and hard working.  But public defenders are incredibly overwhelmed with their caseloads because of the number of cases they’re handed on a regular basis. And because criminal cases can take a while to reach resolution, public defenders are constantly balancing an ebb and flow of new and ending cases.

Whether you use a public defender will depend upon your financial resources. Sometimes, those who qualify for a public defender will still opt to hire a private attorney, because they can crowdsource funding from family and friends and even community fundraisers depending upon the circumstances of their case.

Have you found yourself in need of a criminal defense attorney and are concerned the public defender might not be able to meet your needs? Get in touch with our criminal defense team here at Cohen & Winters. We’re committed to getting our clients the fairest trial and offering the highest quality legal representation possible. When we take on your criminal case, we commit to taking care of you and anyone else that might be impacted by the outcome of your case.


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