If you are arrested, you have a constitutional right to an attorney at public expense. However, even if you qualify for a public defender, it can be shortsighted to accept their services simply to save some money upfront. Because what you get from a private attorney is often the most important qualifier of all: experience.

Public defenders are generally hardworking and conscientious professionals, but they get ground down by a system that does not adequately support their efforts. Stories of overworked public defenders being outmaneuvered by aggressive prosecutors are legendary. Tina Peng, a public defender in New Orleans, wrote a scathing op-ed that appeared in The Washington Post, which stated bluntly, “It’s impossible for me to do a good job representing my clients.”

Because such a high percentage of criminal defendants are indigent, there isn’t enough funding for public defender offices. So, public defenders routinely handle 50 to 100 percent more cases than they should and wind up giving those cases 30 to 50 percent less attention than they require. Even the most idealistic young lawyers cannot continue to work in a system that frustrates their efforts, which is why after they get a little courtroom experience, they move on to other areas of practice. That means the majority of public defenders are inexperienced lawyers cutting their teeth on misdemeanor and felony cases that require a greater level of skill than they can provide. And if, by chance, you happen to draw an experienced public defender, does his or her experience include trial work?

To maximize your chance of a favorable outcome, you need an attorney who offers advantages over and above what a public defender can provide:

  • Experience — A private attorney is more likely to have taken a case to trial all the way to verdict. This level of experience is important even in negotiations for a plea bargain, because the prosecutor needs to know there is a real threat of going to trial and losing.
  • Time — A private attorney is going to have more time to dedicate to your case. That means more time learning about the circumstances of your arrest, more time assembling evidence to build a case, and more time making motions to exclude evidence or testimony or reduce bail so you can be at liberty. Finally, if necessary, private attorneys can take the time to try a case without worrying about the impact on their caseload.
  • Resources — A private attorney is more likely to have the resources to hire an investigator to uncover facts that can help your case.

There is much truth to the old adage “Experience is what you get after you need it.” Keep this in mind when you decide on the attorney who will handle your criminal defense. Do you want your case to add to your attorney’s experience or to benefit from it?

Matthew R. Zatko, Attorney at Law handles DUI, misdemeanor, and felony cases in the Somerset, PA area. Call 814-443-1631 or contact my office online to schedule a consultation.