This is one of the most common questions that I'm asked after a person is arrested for a DUI, should I go with the Public Defender(PD) or hire a Private Attorney? To be clear, there is no right or wrong answer to this question because no to attorneys are created equal. However, there are some generalizations that you should be aware of. First, when you go with the Public Defender you do not get to pick which lawyer you will get. A Public Defender will be assigned to you. Whereas, if you hire a Private Lawyer you get to interview them, see their resume, see their background, examine their experience, and select the lawyer you believe is best suited to handle your case.
What can a Private Lawyer do that a Public Defender cannot do?
They both are licensed attorneys and both can legally do the same things in the criminal court system. However, a Public Defender does not handle issues outside the criminal court system in a DUI such as the DHSMV driver's license suspension or obtaining a hardship license. Challenging a driver's license suspension can be extremely important because it is virtually impossible to get around without a driver's license. Furthermore, a skilled DUI lawyer may used the DHSMV hearing as an opportunity to question the police officers under oath outside the presence of a prosecutor. This testimony can be very useful in a trial or motion hearing when the officer testifies.
Additionally, a Private Lawyer can handle insurance issues that arise when there is an DUI accident. Anytime there is an accident your insurance will want to speak to the driver about the accident. You must be very careful about what you say to the insurance company because your statement can be used against you in the criminal court system. The insurance company will most assuredly ask you where you were coming from, if you had anything to drink, how much you had to drink, etc.. You do not want this information to be used against you in a criminal case, but you cannot ignore your insurance company otherwise they will drop you from coverage. An experience DUI lawyer can help you navigate through this process so that you are protected, but at the same time still help you have insurance coverage from any accident.
What is the difference between a Private Lawyer and a Public Defender?
As state above they are both licensed attorneys, but the private attorney can handle matters outside of the criminal court system that the Public Defender cannot. The main difference between a Private Lawyer and Public Defender is usually experience and the case load. Public Defenders that handle DUI cases are usually new lawyers straight out of law school. Generally, they do not have the experience that a Private Lawyer has handling DUI cases. This means they have not seen as many DUI legal issues or had as many DUI trials. When is comes to case loads, Public Defenders handling DUI cases have upwards of two hundred (200) open cases. A private attorney does not handle nearly that many cases. Usually, a busy private attorney will not have more than thirty (30) open cases. It is difficult to effectively handle and manage more cases than that. This is also why there is often a lack of communication between the Public Defender and their client. I regularly hear that the people call their Public Defender and say that they cannot get a hold of them. It's not because the Public Defender does not care, it is just that they are that busy.
Learn more about what a DUI lawyer can do for you.