What are the Advantages & Disadvantages of using a Public Defender?

Written by Reynolds Defense Firm

On January 16, 2018

Are there advantages & disadvantages of hiring a Public Defender vs hiring a privately retained attorney?  Just like everything in life, there are fantastic Public Defenders and there are not so great ones.  There are good police officers and there are bad police officers; We have good teachers and  not so good teachers; There are good chefs, bad chefs.  The most common complaint that we hear is that Public Defenders have a tremendous amount of cases and it’s a volume business   Since they have so many assigned clients, they don’t have as much time as they’d like to spend on each individual case.

Advantage of Public Defenders

First, Public Defenders, sometimes called Court Appointed Attorneys, work with the same judges and prosecutors every day, and get to know their personalities better than some private attorneys. Public defenders often know the quirks and preferences of the prosecutors and judges, and can use this knowledge to better know how to move forward with a case. They also see the same police officers testifying, and know who’s likely going to be a good or bad witness for your case.

Because Reynolds Defense Firm has 6 attorneys with 80 years collective years’ experience in the Portland Metro area, we also know the judges and prosecutors in the local courthouses.  We have established relationships with them and, more importantly, have established a reputation for representing good people.  Judges and prosecutors know that if a RDF attorney is standing next to you that you are a good person.  That you are taking this arrest seriously, and that you don’t want to end up back here again.  We give the judges objective reasons that make them better able to make decisions because we have the time to know our clients personally.

Disadvantages of Public Defenders

  1.   The ability to make a personal connection

As mentioned above, typically Public Defenders have large caseloads.  Reynolds Defense Firm Attorneys are responsible for a much smaller caseload.  What this means to you is that your RDF attorney has the time to take care of you, the time to think through the best outcomes based on your needs and priorities, the time to get to know you personally so he/she knows what’s most important to you.  The time to think outside the box and come up with alternative legal arguments and/or defenses instead of processing you through the way they always process, because this is the one that they know best, that this is the path of least resistance.

When your attorney knows you on a more personal level, they can give the judge real reasons why they should consider alternative decisions based on you personally.  When and RDF attorney is standing next to our clients in court, we are telling the court that this is a good person.  We’re also sending the message that they already know what we stand for.  They already know that we believe in our clients.  They already know that our clients understand what a DUI arrest means.  The judge does not have to hit our clients over the head to help them understand the gravity of what they are facing.  If a judge doesn’t know anything about a client other than their name, birth date, job, and charges, it makes it very difficult for them to make decisions outside of the standard ranges or choices.

2.  Your Attorney’s Reputation

There is a disadvantage of Public Defenders seeing the same judges and DA’s day in and day out has to do with reputation.  Reputation is a word that you often hear attorneys and law firms throw around as a positive thing that they have created.  What does it mean?  It’s basically the quality of work, the attributes that judges are looking for that help make the process work smoothly.  Some of these attributes include:  organization, legal skills, good work, experience, client preparation, and awareness of process.  When attorneys show these qualities in a positive way time and time again, that builds their reputation with the court.  This can also work against the attorneys that are wasting the Courts time by not being prepared or disorganized or having thought through their arguments.

A great example of how reputation is built is demonstrated by an attorney’s organization and client preparation.  As we have mentioned, the criminal courts very busy.  Further, everyone involved wants the process to go as smoothly and as quickly as possible.  At RDF, we spend a lot of time talking with our clients.  This piece is critical, because it helps our clients know what to expect at each court appearance.  We also prep them to know what the judge is likely to say, what the DA is going to do, when or if they will be asked to speak, etc.

This means that when it comes to our turn in front of a judge, we are made priority.  We aren’t taking up the courts time because our client doesn’t understand what is happening.  We’re also very familiar with our client’s case because we’ve reviewed the paperwork with them.  This allows our attorneys to focus their time in front of a judge talking about who this person is.  It also gives the judge objective reasons to assist in their decision-making process.

3.  Your Attorney’s exposure to multiple jurisdictions

Typically, Public Defenders only work in one court or jurisdiction.  Our RDF attorneys appear in multiple jurisdictions throughout the state.  Because of their experience, they see the variety of processes.  They are also experienced with the different ways of doing things than attorneys who only work in one courthouse.

4.  Control over Level of Experience

Public Defenders often specialize in one area of law (typically at the misdemeanor level).  Sometimes they don’t have the level of experience that private practice attorneys might have.  Public Defenders often “cut their teeth” on high volume misdemeanor caseloads such as DUII cases.  By having an attorney appointed to you, you don’t have control or certainty of your attorney’s level of experience.

5.  Challenging a Drivers License Suspension

Finally, if you’re facing consequences to your driver’s license because of Implied Consent law – if you have refused or failed a breath or blood test, that’s important.  A Public Defender will not be able to help you with that.  The hearing related to your driver’s license suspension from a refusal or test failure is technically an administrative hearing.  Since it’s not a criminal, your Public Defender cannot help you with that.   If keeping your license is important to you, take this matter seriously.  You will have to hire a private attorney to help you with that or do it yourself.

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