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Private Attorneys vs. Public Defenders: How Do They Stack Up?

When you are accused of a crime, you have the right to an attorney. As the arresting officer tells you while reading your Miranda rights, if you are unable to afford a private defense attorney of your own, you will be provided with an attorney known as a public defender.

In either case, the job of the attorney is the same: to research all the facts of the case, negotiate deals with the prosecutors and seek reduced bail, charges and/or sentences. In some cases, having the charges dismissed entirely could be possible. Attorneys also examine witnesses, analyze the case the prosecutor is making, carefully analyze searches and seizures made by officers and collect any other evidence that may be useful to the defense strategy.

Key differences

If their job is primarily the same, how do public defenders and private attorneys differ from one another?

Money is, of course, a big factor. Some defendants simply cannot afford to pay for an attorney of their own. Public defenders are employed by the government, so their salaries come out of taxes rather than being paid directly by the defendant. Private attorneys will charge either an hourly rate or a fixed fee. This primarily depends on the type of case. Many private attorneys began their careers as public defenders or prosecutors.

There is a perception that private attorneys have an advantage over public defenders, who are likely to be overworked and underpaid. However, this is not necessarily true. Depending on the case, you might be able to get a positive outcome working with a public defender as you would with a private attorney.

Ultimately, what’s most important is that you pay attention to the characteristics of each individual attorney, rather than whether he or she is a private or public defender. Look for experience, commitment and skills that set that attorney apart.

For sound legal guidance when you’ve been accused of a crime in Pennsylvania, speak with experienced Berks County criminal defense lawyer David R. Eshelman.


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