What is the Difference Between a Criminal Defense Lawyer and a Public Defender?

A public defender can usually capably handle a criminal defense matter. But a private attorney is almost always a better choice.

In many ways and in many situations, there is not much difference between a private criminal defense lawyer and a public defender. Many private attorneys were once public defenders and vice versa. Most of us are familiar with the issue of overworked public defenders who give little attention to individual clients. This problem may be overblown, but it certainly exists. The issue could affect not only the quality of representation but also the quality of advice a lawyer gives to a client. This issue could affect private attorneys as well. More on that is below.

For the most part, public defenders and Atlanta criminal defense lawyers also have identical commitments. Overall, all good criminal defense lawyers are committed to upholding individual rights against government overreach. Make no mistake about it, police and prosecutors will trample individual rights if they think they can get away with it. Public and private attorneys are also committed to obtaining the best possible result under the circumstances. A good lawyer never settles for less.

Public Defender/Court-Appointed Lawyer

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel. However, the Sixth Amendment does not guarantee the right to free counsel.

Many Gwinnett County Judges only allow public defenders or court-appointed lawyers to represent defendants in jail. Rightly or wrongly, many judges assume that if defendants can afford bail, they can afford to hire an Atlanta criminal defense attorney. Other Judges allow public interest lawyers to represent defendants on bail only if the defendant completes a detailed financial affidavit and swears to its accuracy.

Briefly, a public defender is a bit like a reverse prosecutor. The public defender’s office is basically a law firm. Usually, the public defender’s office assigns one lawyer, or maybe two, to each criminal court. Limited investigative and other support may be available. Court-appointed lawyers are usually individual Atlanta criminal defense attorneys who are in private practice. As is the case with public defenders, defendants who accept a public interest lawyer have no say in the process. They get whoever the Judge or head public defender assigns to their cases.

That is the major drawback to a public defender or court-appointed lawyer. Defendants simply do not know if they are getting an experienced professional or a kid straight out of law school.

Choosing the Right Atlanta Criminal Defense Attorney

Experience is probably the most important quality to look for in an attorney. Law school teaches students to think like lawyers. They learn practice skills in the school of hard knocks.

Dedication is important as well. We often use the example of the late Grant Cooper, who was RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan’s lawyer in the late 1960s. Cooper was a capable lawyer, but he was a celebrity lawyer as opposed to a criminal defense lawyer. As a result, he may have missed some weaknesses in the state’s case. If he had more aggressively challenged the state’s evidence, Sirhan might not still be in jail today.

Don’t forget accessibility. When you have questions about your case, you should talk to your lawyer and not a secretary or a non-lawyer assistant. At the same time, beware of the lawyer who always picks up the phone on the first ring or always has time to meet with you on short notice. There’s probably a reason the lawyer doesn’t have many clients.

Work With a Diligent Gwinnett County Criminal Defense Lawyer

Many defendants have a choice between a public defender and a private attorney. For a free consultation with an experienced Norcross criminal defense lawyer, contact Zimmerman & Associates, Attorneys at Law. We routinely handle matters throughout the Peachtree State.