Court-Appointed Attorneys: What You Need To Know

Court-Appointed Attorneys: What You Need To Know

by Mar 26, 2019

You’ve probably heard it a hundred times in movies and television: “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” You hear this when someone is being arrested and being read their Miranda Rights. However, the reality of using a court-appointed attorney rarely (if ever) matches what’s depicted in movies and TV.

What Is A Court-Appointed Attorney?

If you’ve been arrested and can’t afford to hire a private criminal defense attorney, the court will assign an attorney to handle your case. These lawyers work in the public defender’s office and are mandated to defend anyone who has been charged with a crime and is not financially able to employ counsel.

While this may sound like a great way to get free legal representation in the event that you’re charged with a crime, there are several drawbacks to relying on a court-appointed attorney.

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Private vs Court-Appointed Attorneys

Before agreeing to work with a public defender, a defendant should be aware of the following differences between a private attorney and one appointed by the court:

1) Caseload: Public defenders typically have extremely large caseloads, which means you’re one of several dozen or more people competing for their time and help. You may only speak with a public defender once or twice before your case goes to court.

By contrast, hiring a private attorney means you’ll get much more attention. A private attorney will likely only be working on a handful of active cases at one time, which means they’ll have plenty of energy and resources to dedicate to your defense.

2) Consistency: A court-appointed attorney may not be your exclusive attorney for the duration of your case. The public defender’s office may choose to send different lawyers to handle different phases of your defense. This can be confusing and difficult to adapt to, and you won’t have any control over the process.

When you hire a private attorney, you can expect that they will be with you for the duration of your case.

3) Strategy/Outcome: By far the most important difference between private and court-appointed attorneys is the way they handle your defense. While a public defender is obligated to defend you to the best of their ability, the reality is that they often encourage defendants to accept deals offered by prosecutors that aren’t entirely in their best interest.

Because of the huge number of cases each public defender handles, and the extremely limited time and resources they have available for each case, their requirement of defending you fully is often at odds with their desire to clear as many cases as they can as quickly as possible.

In order to do that, your court-appointed attorney may suggest accepting terms (a “plea bargain”) that include probation and/or jail time in order to avoid going to trial.

A reputable private attorney will never suggest accepting an agreement that isn’t in your best interests, and they don’t have the pressure of fifty other cases they need to get to that week.

Hire Your Own Lawyer Whenever Possible

Unless you simply cannot afford to hire a lawyer, working with a private criminal defense lawyer is always better than accepting a court-appointed attorney.

If you have no other option, than working with a public defender is a much better solution than trying to represent yourself.

At Quinnan Law, we work with all types of clients. If you need legal representation in a criminal matter, please contact our offices today.


At Quinnan Law, we offer every client a free phone consultation to discuss their unique situation and determine how we can help. To arrange a consultation, please fill out the adjacent form or call us at: (707) 540-2356.

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