Public Defender vs Private Attorney: Choosing the Best Defense

Have you or someone you know been arrested for a crime? If so, finding the right attorney as soon as possible is important. 

Part of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees that a person accused of a crime has the right to assistance of counsel in criminal cases, even if they can’t pay for an attorney. If they don’t have the ability to pay, an attorney is appointed to handle their case.

This sounds great in theory. In practice, however, there are big differences between having a public defender vs private attorney represent you. Having a public defender appointed to represent you may not deliver the best results. 

In fact, being represented by a private attorney rather than a public defender increases the chances of avoiding jail time altogether and receiving a shorter jail sentence. The chance comes with a much higher financial cost, unfortunately. This financial cost can make choosing an attorney a very difficult decision.

Below are the pros and cons that explain the differences between the two types of defense council options.

Pros of Being Represented by a Public Defender

A public defender is an attorney who gets appointed to represent a defendant by the court. The court will do this when a defendant requests the court to do so or when a defendant can’t afford to hire their own private attorney.

One of the biggest pros for having a public defender represent you is the cost: they are free. The cost gets paid by the state or federal government, depending on whether it is a state or federal case.

Another pro is that public defenders typically get assigned to a lot of cases. So it doesn’t take long for them to get a lot of experience working with the criminal court system. They get to know the judges and the prosecutors and get exposure to a lot of different types of cases and how those cases get resolved.

Many public defenders choose to work in their area of law because they want to help people. This desire may help provide them with the drive to obtain the best results they can for their clients. 

Cons of Being Represented by a Public Defender

Public defenders are notorious for being overworked. Very often, they handle more cases than they can manage, which causes them to steer defendants into plea bargains in order to lower their workload. Their workload also means they have limited time to spend with the people they represent or work on their cases.

Public defenders get appointed to represent their clients. The appointment may not necessarily be made because the individual public defender is the best lawyer to handle a particular type of criminal case. 

Public defenders’ offices also typically receive less funding than state and federal prosecutors’ offices. Because of this, public defenders often don’t have the resources to hire investigators and conduct the discovery they need in order to properly and competently prepare their cases for trial.

Pros of Hiring a Private Attorney

Unlike public defenders, private attorneys are in control over how many clients they take on at one time, so they can keep their workload to a reasonable level. They have the time to get to know all the details of your case. They can talk to witnesses and visit the scene of the crime.

They also charge for their services, so they can hire additional attorneys and staff for assistance. This helps ensure they have the time and resources available to more competently handle each of their clients’ cases. They can hire experts to prove their case and, most importantly, fight to disprove the prosecution’s case. 

Private attorneys have to compete with other private attorneys to get defendants to hire them. If they don’t build a good reputation for their office or firm, which includes getting their clients out of jail or getting them the shortest sentence possible, they will lose out on future business. 

Private attorneys also have the option to hire trial consultants to help them develop their defense strategy. They can also hire jury consultants to help them pick the best possible jury that will render a verdict in the case. 

Cons of Hiring a Private Attorney

The cost of hiring a private attorney is a huge con. A private attorney may charge an hourly rate, an upfront retainer fee, or a flat fee.

A retainer fee is usually calculated based on the attorney’s hourly rate and how many hours they expect to work on your case. If your case gets resolved sooner than expected, the “unused” retainer fee may or may not be refundable. According to, a typical cost for a criminal attorney per hour is between $150 to $700. 

The payment options for a private attorney will also vary depending on the complexity of the case. If the case is relatively simple, the attorney may charge a flat fee. 

Choosing Between a Public Defender vs Private Attorney

Making the choice between representation by a public defender vs private attorney can make the difference between whether you spend time in jail, how long you spend in jail, and how much it will cost you for your freedom.

Whether you choose a public defender or a private attorney to represent you, getting out of jail on bail can help your case. Posting bail allows defendants the freedom to actively assist their attorney with building a strong defense of their case.

Contact us if you need to post bail for you or someone you know. We’re here to help.