Some criminal defendants in Wisconsin are faced with a choice of whether to pay for their own attorney or have a public attorney appointed for them. For some defendants, a public defender is an absolute necessity. However, if you have the ability to hire a private attorney in any way, you should strongly consider doing so. There are substantive differences in both the experience of working with your lawyer and the results that they will obtain for you.
Every attorney is obligated by the rules of their state bar to do the following:
- Represent a client zealously and diligently within the bounds of the law
- Act with reasonable promptness in representing a client
According to the American Bar Association, “In all professional functions, a lawyer should be competent, prompt and diligent.”
Public Defenders Are Often Under-Resourced and Overworked
The realities of public defense make it difficult for many public defense attorneys to fully live up to their obligations. Studies show exactly how overburdened public defenders are in their job. On average, public defenders have two to five times more cases than they reasonably should. One news article detailed a public defender who had 194 felony cases on their docket at the same time. Local governments may not devote the resources to hire additional public defenders when their existing attorneys cannot keep up with the cases. At the same time, they are more than willing to throw unlimited resources at prosecutions because it is far more politically popular.
Public defenders may have an incentive to make cases go away as quickly as possible because they simply do not have the time necessary to engage with each and every individual case. It may mean that they are quicker to accept a plea bargain that is offered and may not want to take a case to trial. They may not negotiate as hard with the prosecutor on plea deals because they want to clear a case from their docket and move to the next one.
Public Defenders May Not Provide You with Competent and Responsive Representation
One common reason why a defendant will appeal a guilty verdict is that they believe that they received ineffective assistance from their counsel during the course of their trial. Very often, the fact patterns of these cases are very distributing, and they portray a situation in which the attorney glaringly missed opportunities and did not live up to their professional obligations in defending their client. Many of these cases involve public defenders.
We do not mean to suggest that public defenders are inherently inferior to private attorneys. Many public defenders are good at what they do and provide their clients with the best possible legal defense. However, there are other circumstances in which the defense provided by public defenders is an example of “you get what you pay for.” The system itself is skewed towards an “assembly line” of plea deals in cases, as opposed to a customized and personal representation.
In addition, you may have limited time to speak with your attorney. While a lawyer must be responsive and answer your questions, a public defender only has so much time to go around between clients. It is not uncommon for messages to go unreturned for days or weeks if they are even returned at all. In a criminal case, you want to know that your lawyer is accessible and will keep you updated on developments in your case as they occur.
Private Attorneys Have More Time and a Reason to Provide Responsive Services
The scenario is much different when you are working with a private criminal defense attorney. First, a private defense law firm will have the resources necessary to properly handle your case. While you will be far from your lawyer’s only client, the attorney will also not be as overburdened and stretched thin. Law firms may have additional attorneys to help handle cases when one attorney gets extremely busy.
While all attorneys must follow the same obligations, a private attorney is often more concerned for their professional reputation than a public defender. Customer service is important because bad reviews can sink a lawyer’s business. At the same time, positive client work-of-mouth can help a lawyer get more clients in the future.
A private lawyer has every incentive to be responsive and provide strong customer service. While we are not suggesting that a public defender has little reason to care, we are saying that a private defense lawyer has an extra reason to do so.
Generally, it is easier to communicate with a private criminal defense attorney than it is with a public defender. When you have been charged with a crime, you are dealing with a very stressful situation. You are worried about your freedom and your future. You do not want to be worried about whether you will hear back from your lawyer and the more basic question of whether they are up to the job.
A Private Attorney May Get You Better Results
Most importantly, there is a difference in the results obtained by public defenders and private defense attorneys. A study shows that the conviction rate of defendants who had a public attorney is 12% higher than the rate of convictions of defendants with a private attorney. Both the private attorney’s skill and their incentive to fight the charges when possible could be responsible for the lower conviction rate of defendants who have paid for a private lawyer. There is a possibility that you could also receive a better deal when you have an attorney who is devoted to negotiating the best possible outcome in your case.
Contact an Appleton Criminal Defense Attorney Today
When you hire a criminal defense attorney, you should call the lawyers at Hogan Eickhoff. We will diligently and zealously represent you in your case in a judgment-free manner. We believe that every client deserves a strong criminal defense. Your first step is to contact an attorney to schedule your free initial consultation. You can message us online or call us today at (920) 450-9800.