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Private Defense Counsel or Appointed Counsel?

In the United States, a public defender is a lawyer whose duty is to provide legal counsel and representation to indigent criminal defendants who are unable to pay for legal assistance. Public defenders are employed by the government (at the federal and county level), or they work for non/profit entities funded by the government, as opposed to criminal defense attorneys in private practice.

People who are charged with felony offenses, and many individuals who are charged with misdemeanors, may be eligible for appointed counsel or for assistance through a public defender's office. When a defendant petitions for a court-appointed lawyer, the trial judge will typically make an assessment of the defendant's resources to determine if the defendant will qualify for an appointment of a criminal defense lawyer. When an appointment is made, although the defendant may be ordered to repay certain attorney fees following a guilty plea or conviction, there will not ordinarily be any fee in the event of acquittal or dismissal of the charges.

Not all jurisdictions have public defender offices, per se. In some areas, indigent defendants are represented by legal aid attorneys whose offices have contracts with the court. In other areas, representation is provided by attorneys in private practice who are appointed and paid by the court. Defense services can also be provided by lawyers employed by private corporations that receive government grant money for this purpose.

State public defender offices can vary widely from county to county, and from federal defender organizations. In state offices, issues often arise in jurisdictions with public defenders over appropriate levels of funding. If attorneys are under funded, their case loads can climb to levels where they are unable to provide adequate representation. Further, funding issues can keep salaries too low to attract the best legal talent or to keep experienced lawyers on staff.

In short, if you can hire an effective criminal defense lawyer you should not hesitate to do so. But, if your means are limited, you should also not hesitate to request an appointed defense lawyer, and should not fear that you will receive inferior representation just because your lawyer was appointed.


 
     
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