A Former Prosecutor And Criminal Law Expert

Criminal Defense Lawyer vs. Public Defender, A Clear Advantage

When dealing with a criminal defense or felony proceeding, the situation must be handled correctly to ensure the protection of your rights and eventual freedom. A courtroom is a brutal place for the uninformed, with a complex hierarchy, system of rules for argument framing, and a few in-and-outs that could lean a case your way; IF you know how to take advantage of them. A talented defense attorney will often be the determining factor between years behind bars and a reduced sentence, or even acquittal.

There are many criminal attorneys that are going to have their hat in the ring for dealing with your case, but the biggest decision really comes in going with a court appointed public defender or hiring a defense attorney. No matter what you’ve heard otherwise, there is a real difference between the representation offered by a defense lawyer vs. a public defender. The goal of this piece is to sift through some of the clearest differences and see why a private defense attorney is the safest bet for your best possible outcome in court.


The first clear difference is one of choice. When choosing a private criminal attorney, you are able to shop around in a sense; to vet your case among several lawyers and find out how each would treat your case differently. You can choose a defense attorney that you trust; one you can build a rapport with.

Inversely, a public defender is court appointed representation. You have no control of who is chosen, and quite often the public defender is a fresh from law school new attorney who doesn’t have the chops to stand up against a hard-nosed prosecutor. This is not the type of lawyer you want in control of your freedom in the courtroom when facing sentencing.


In terms of cases that demand their immediate attention, the private defense attorney holds the clear upper hand. Public defenders are often overworked and piled with massive caseloads, frequently managing a caseload of up to 10 times what a private defense attorney is going to be taking on. Private defense attorneys are able to put more time into your individual case, learning the ins and outs and ultimately showing up to court more fully prepared. The choice in terms of personal service to the defendant should be clear.


Finally, there has been an interesting statistic in terms of sentence time and choice of representation. A study published in the New York Times, conducted by 2 economists and a trial judge in Denver, found that the average sentence of defendants that were represented by a public defender were 3 years longer than those of a private defense lawyer. This is despite evidence that a private defense lawyer was statistically enlisted for the more serious cases with higher stakes.

While the nuances of individual cases are hardly swayed by statistics, the clear indicator of preparedness and service to the client is a deciding factor. Consult with a criminal attorney or private defense attorney to get the best possible outcome from your case and protect your rights in the face of the court.