June 4, 2012 By Wallin & Klarich

For some individuals who are truly destitute financially, a public defender in Orange County may be the only option. However, as with anything else, getting legal services for free can come with a price. Moreover, a public defender may not be free at all.

While public defenders must pass the California Bar, they generally are new to law. Moreover, top graduates often get offers with good firms right out of law school. Using a public defender may mean, then, getting someone who is inexperienced and mediocre. And if a defendant hopes for a lawyer who is a specialist in the area of the charge, a PD is unlikely to be a good candidate.

Public defenders are actually civil servants. As such, they receive a salary that is generally much less than what a private attorney makes. They don’t receive any extra pay for success, so there is little incentive for them to give a particular case that extra effort aside from altruism. Indeed, since many PD offices load their employees down with as many as 100 -200 cases at a time, there is little time for work on individual cases at all.

Many times a defendant meets his public defender for the first time just before entering court to enter a plea. Such a brief encounter cannot provide a lawyer with sufficient information to know what the client’s best interests are. Crucial details of a case are likely to be missed. In cases where the PD may meet with the client after the initial arrangement, he or she may be so burdened with other cases that he or she does not have time to digest the pertinent facts of a case adequately to develop an effective defense strategy.

Indeed, a defendant is fortunate if he has only one PD. The Office of the Public Defender often has such a high caseload that a particular assignment may be shared among several attorneys. The emphasis in such an environment is often placed on closing cases quickly. We often receive calls from defendants or their families with stories that their public defender did no investigation of their case. Also, we are told that the public defender never provided the accused with a copy of the police report or even sat down to discuss the report with the accused. Of course, no defendant should ever consider making any decision on their case without having reviewed the police reports with his or her attorney.

If all this were not enough to convince a person that a private attorney is almost certainly a better option, public defenders aren’t really free to many clients. If the client has a job or bank account, or some other asset, he may be required to help pay the costs. The court is required by law per Penal Code Section 987.8(b) to conduct a hearing to determine the ability of the accused to repay the county for using the public defender.

You will have a choice when you or your loved one is facing criminal charges. You can do all you can to obtain experienced criminal defense representation, or you can “gamble” that the public defender will do all that is necessary to aggressively defend you. You should ask yourself whether you can afford to “gamble” on your freedom and your criminal record. The criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have more than 30 years of experience helping clients with their criminal matters, and we are here to help you. Call us for a consultation today at 1-888-749-0034.

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