A Public Defender or a Private Attorney: Which Option Is Better to Defend Your Criminal Charges?
Interviewer: What about simply using public defender? I think that’s one question that a lot of people going through any kind of criminal case process, might become confused about. What’s the difference between being appointed a public defender and actually hiring your own private practice criminal defense lawyer.
The Public Defenders in the Johnson County, Kansas area Are Highly Qualified but Carry Heavy Caseloads
Paul: I think the main difference will probably be one of workload. I am very well acquainted with many of the public defenders at the federal level and at the district court level here in Johnson County, and I think that our community is blessed by having extremely good and experienced lawyers in both public defense offices.
I think these are very good lawyers. They have considerable experience. I think the main difference is that most public defenders will tell you that they handle extremely large caseloads, especially during times of economic challenge.
Many people appear in court with no means to hire counsel. Public defenders are required, by the nature of their job, to handle a very large caseload.
A Private Attorney Has Time and Resources to Devote to Your Criminal Case
I think that if someone wants to make sure that they have plenty of meaningful, one-on-one “face time” with their lawyer, they really need to hire private counsel. I think people need to be very selective when they hire private counsel. Just because a lawyer is in private practice does not mean that the lawyer is somehow better than a public defender or that they are going to give the defendant sufficient one-on-one time in preparing their defense.
It Is Imperative to Personally Meet an Attorney before Deciding to Hire Him or Her
I think people need to meet with lawyers in person before making a hiring decision. I think people need to ask lawyers very straight-forward questions about their experience, about their caseload, and about the volume of their practice before deciding who to hire. I think people tend not to be as selective as they should be when they hire counsel and this is a very important decision.
Interviewer: Definitely, and that’s a good question too. Do people have a choice in which public defender represents them? Also, if either the private attorney or public defender is not handling the case as well as an individual likes, can they replace them?
You Cannot Discharge a Public Defender Based on ‘Preference’ – But You Can Discharge Private Counsel at Any Time and for Any Reason
Paul: If there is a legitimate and meaningful complaint about the lawyer’s performance, the Court may reassign a case to a different public defender. I have seen situations where clients have lodged complaints against their public defender and it’s up to the court to decide whether this is just a simple personality dispute or whether there is something meaningful that the lawyer should be doing that they are not doing. But that happens rarely. Certainly, if you have hired a private lawyer, you always have the right to discharge that lawyer and hire alternate counsel at any time.
The Sixth Amendment Guarantees the Right to Counsel of Your Choice
The Sixth Amendment guarantees everyone the right to counsel of their choosing. If you have hired a private attorney who does not handle the case properly, you can discharge that lawyer and hire a new lawyer at any time during the case.
Interviewer: Obviously one of the best ways to avoid any kind of headaches like that with a private lawyer is just ask those questions like you mentioned up front, so that you don’t have any surprises later on.
How Will Your Case Proceed after Bail Is Set?
Now once I get out of jail, what’s next? How often do I have to go to court? What’s going to happen step by step from there?
If You Are Facing Felony Charges, You Must Attend Every Court Appearance; an Attorney May Appear for the Client Facing Misdemeanor Charges in Kansas
Paul: In felony matters and in Federal Court, the defendant is required to be personally present with counsel at every court appearance. In Kansas, if a lawyer is representing someone on misdemeanor charges only, Kansas law allows the lawyer to make appearances on behalf of the defendant.
You Will Meet Frequently with Your Attorney to Prepare for Trial
I think courts like to have their caseloads moving along in a meaningful way. After the initial appearances have been made, my goal is that my clients do not need to make frequent appearances in court but they will be meeting with me regularly as we prepare for the more important hearings of the case.
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