In a first DUI, would it be less beneficial to have a public defender? 47 Answers as of June 11, 2013

This is my first drunk driving charge, and I'm on a limited income. I was wrongly accused and feel I have a fighting chance, but I can't afford to hire an attorney. Can a public defender help or hurt me?

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Law Offices of Phil Hache
Law Offices of Phil Hache | Phil Hache
Public defenders can be good attorneys. The problem that many people encounter is, the public defenders (generally speaking) don't have much free time to set up meetings or talk to the clients in detail about their cases. Usually this is because they have so many cases, it's almost impossible to find enough time in the day to do so. That being said, if you can not afford a private attorney, I highly recommend speaking with the public defender as opposed to handling the case on your own.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 4/5/2011
Law Office of Richard Williams
Law Office of Richard Williams | Richard Williams
If you are unable to afford to hire an attorney to represent you then request appointed counsel. Any attorney appointed to represent you is learned and qualified to act as your legal counsel.
Answer Applies to: Alabama
Replied: 4/4/2011
Theodore W. Robinson, P.C.
Theodore W. Robinson, P.C. | Theodore W. Robinson
A public defender can help you, however, usually they have such a heavy case load that its difficult to get any type of personalized service from them. If you can connect with them and build some rapport, then you may be able to change that deficit into an asset,. Otherwise, if you want competent service and personalized service, hire a private attorney. Good luck.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 4/4/2011
Berlin Law Firm, PLLC
Berlin Law Firm, PLLC | Lee F. Berlin
You are always better off having an attorney represent you, regardless of whether it is a public defender or private criminal defense attorney. A typical competent criminal defense attorney will charge anywhere between $750-$1500 for a first time DUI in city court. That isn't a lot of money when you compare it to the costs of not hiring a lawyer. Now that is expensive. Good luck.
Answer Applies to: Oklahoma
Replied: 4/1/2011
Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly
Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly | Brendan M. Kelly
All public defenders are attorneys. You pay a private lawyer to give you the time and personal attention to your case. If you can afford to have your own attorney then you should do so.
Answer Applies to: Nebraska
Replied: 4/1/2011
    Law Office of Michael Bialys THE DUI MAN
    Law Office of Michael Bialys THE DUI MAN | Michael Bialys
    I always suggest getting your own lawyer. Remember you don't get a public defender when dealing with the DMV. It is always better to have your own attorney especially in this instance.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 2/24/2012
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr. | Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    The public defender is just like any other attorney. Some are good and some are not so good.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law | Jules Fiani
    It is always more beneficial to hire a private attorney. Hiring the best attorney for the price offers you the best chances for a successful outcome. Regardless of the fact that this is your first DUI, in any legal case you always need to hire an attorney that has your best interests at heart. For instance, a lawyer such as myself, I pride myself on the fact that clients get the best value by allowing me to represent them. Feel free to contact me if you would like further assistance.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    The Law Office of Kevin O'Grady
    The Law Office of Kevin O'Grady | Kevin O'Grady
    Private attorneys succeed in their private practice because they know what they are doing. An experienced private attorney may be willing to work out a payment plan with you. A public defender may take actions or not do certain things that a private attorney, later retainer, may not be able to undo. You should seek a private attorney, if that is your desire, as soon as possible.
    Answer Applies to: Hawaii
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser | Phillip L. Weiser
    Public defenders are fully licensed attorneys just as privately employed attorneys are. Each attorney has different personalities just as other persons do, so you have to judge a public defender and private attorney the same. Each one should give you the opportunity to have your day in court if you want to do that, or to give you the options available so you can choose the best path to take.
    Answer Applies to: Kansas
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    Edward  D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law
    Edward D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law | Edward D. Dowling IV
    A public defender could either help or hurt your case depending on the ability of the public defender and the facts of the case.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    Bloom Legal, LLC
    Bloom Legal, LLC | Seth J. Bloom
    You should hire the best attorney you can for your money. If a public defender is all you can afford, it is almost invariably better to have an attorney than no attorney. It is important to consider the potential ramifications when looking to hire an attorney. What may seem like a prohibitively expensive cost in some circumstances is often greatly worth it in the long run to protect your criminal record, liability to large fines, and freedom. Be sure to weigh all of your options with respect to hiring an attorney very carefully but know that the deadlines for filing a number of motions in DWI cases approach very quickly so time is of the essence. If you do seek to hire private counsel in this matter in Louisiana, we invite you to contact our firm at the information on this page for a free case evaluation to determine your options.
    Answer Applies to: Louisiana
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    The Law Office of John T. MacDonald Jr., PLLC
    The Law Office of John T. MacDonald Jr., PLLC | John MacDonald Jr.
    A public defender is an attorney that has an arrangement with the courts to take certain court appointed work for the indigent. If you can't afford an attorney it is best to seek a court appointed attorney. I am a private attorney that also takes court appointed cases in the Lansing area. It is very likely that an attorney that you did hire also has done some court appointed work at some point in time.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    Law Office of Tracey S. Sang
    Law Office of Tracey S. Sang | Tracey Sang
    A Public Defender is better than no attorney at all. PD's know the law - the problem is that they are completely overwhelmed and cannot give you the personal attention that can often make a difference. You might try to think if you have anything to barter with a private attorney for their services (a car, services, etc.) Good luck.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    Law Offices of John Carney
    Law Offices of John Carney | John Carney
    You should retain an experienced criminal attorney in your area with at least 20 years experience or you will not have as good a chance to get the best possible resolution under the circumstances. The conviction will cost you a lot more than a good attorney will charge you and public defenders are not always as experienced or knowledgeable as veteran criminal lawyers. Call me for a free consultation and I can recommend a good lawyer in your area.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 3/29/2011
    Lacy Fields, Attorney at Law, LLC
    Lacy Fields, Attorney at Law, LLC | Lacy Fields
    Yes, you are entitled to a public defender if jail time is on the line (which it is). Just be aware that public defender's time is very limited. They usually have a case load of 100-150 clients whereas a private defense attorney may only have 30-50 clients at a time. If your case is research intensive (need to visit the scene, talk to witnesses, etc), the public defender may not have time to do this until the very last minutes. Also, they will not have time to hold your hand thru the process, take your call every time you have a question, etc. Just make sure that your expectations are reasonable.
    Answer Applies to: Missouri
    Replied: 3/29/2011
    Michael Anthony Wing, P.C.
    Michael Anthony Wing, P.C. | Michael Anthony Wing
    That depends entirely on who is appointed to represent you. You can increase your odds of success by setting, in advance of trial, a meeting with your counsel to discuss your facts, and exchange helpful information. If you have witnesses that could be subpoenaed for example, you would need to give your lawyer names and addresses, and do it early enough to get subpoenas served. Some jurisdictions allow "good behavior" dispositions, where after a period of informal probation, the charges are dismissed. This is available, most often, only when the officers were treated respectfully at the scene...
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 3/29/2011
    Andersen Law PLLC
    Andersen Law PLLC | Craig Andersen
    That depends on where you are located. If you are lucky to live in Seattle, you will get a first-rate defense. Otherwise, you will have to insist on going to trial and do a lot of your own foot work to get a fair trial. It may be that the facts of your case are such as a deal may be reached amounting to a plea to a lesser offense. When all else fails, you need an attorney who has the expertise and experience to defend you against this highly-technical charge. Please feel free to contact me should you have any additional questions or concerns.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 3/29/2011
    Austin Legal Services, PLC
    Austin Legal Services, PLC | Jared Austin
    Depending on the country, you may not even be eligible for a court-appointed counsel. Usually you will only get one for misdemeanors if the judge thinks there is a possibility you could go to jail. Keep in mind that the same lawyers that are on the court-appointed counsel list are also in private practice so there really is no concern as to the quality of representation. Even for a first offense DUI it is recommended that you have a lawyer because only an experienced DUI attorney can properly evaluate the police report for errors that could possibly get the charges reduced or dismissed. If you cannot afford one, at least consult with one in your area before pleading to anything. Best of everything.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 3/29/2011
    Nelson & Lawless
    Nelson & Lawless | Terry Nelson
    Get an attorney, unless you know how to effectively represent yourself in court against a professional prosecutor intending to convict. If serious about hiring private counsel, feel free to contact me. If you can't afford private counsel, you can apply for the Public Defender. Keep in mind: When you are arrested for DUI, whether alcohol or drugs, upon release from jail or booking you were given documents that included a notice that you have only ten days to file a request with DMV for a hearing on an appeal of the automatic one-year suspension of your license imposed by DMV upon arrest for DUI, which is separate and runs consecutively with any suspension that may be imposed by the court. Contact DMV and do so, timely, then appear at your scheduled hearing and present your evidence and testimony. If you don't know how to do these things, then hire an attorney that does.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 3/29/2011
    LynchLaw
    LynchLaw | Michael Thomas Lynch
    I get this type of question all the time. Like most questions, the answer depends on other facts. Every Public Defenders office is different. Some have good reputations others do not. For the most part Public Defenders are very qualified and experienced attorneys. Most, however, don't always have the time to spend explaining all the options and all of the possible results. Additionally, investigative resources are limited. In some cases investigation that could take place does not take place by the time the matter is "resolved." If you are the type of person who needs to have all aspects of the case explained to you, and if you have the personal resources to pay for complete investigation, then perhaps a private attorney would serve you better.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 3/29/2011
    Tracy L Henderson, Attorney at Law
    Tracy L Henderson, Attorney at Law | Tracy L. Henderson
    Public defenders are good attorneys but busy. You could always find an attorney who takes payments and/or you could use a credit card to pay then pay them payments.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    Law Office of Craig E. Gibbs
    Law Office of Craig E. Gibbs | Craig Gibbs
    Yes.
    Answer Applies to: Louisiana
    Replied: 6/11/2013
    Law Office of Jonathan T. Sarre
    Law Office of Jonathan T. Sarre | Jonathan T. Sarre
    At least in Oregon where I practice, public defenders are a mixed bag. You can get one who will do more for you than lots of lawyers you can hire and then there's the ones that give anyone who does court appointed work a bad name. Fortunately I haven't met too many of them. The biggest gripe that people seem to have with court appointed lawyers is access: they can't get in touch with them, their phone calls don't get returned and it is hard to schedule an appointment or speak to anyone but a receptionist or legal assistant. Court appointed lawyers have high case loads and are in court most every day for large chunks. Plus you can't choose the "good lawyers" at the PD's office (even if you knew who the "good lawyers" were. If having some control over who you pick for your DUII case and being able to talk to your lawyer when you want to is important then you might want to attempt to borrow money and hire someone.
    Answer Applies to: Oregon
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    Goolsby Law Office
    Goolsby Law Office | Richard Goolsby
    If you cannot afford to retain an attorney, be advised that, in my opinion, many public defenders are very experienced advocates. Good luck!
    Answer Applies to: Georgia
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    The Olsinski Law Firm, PLLC
    The Olsinski Law Firm, PLLC | Justin C. Olsinski
    First, you are clearly better off with a public defender than you are with representing yourself. Second, most public defenders are very good attorneys, depending on your jurisdiction. The problem usually with using public defenders is that their case load is usually quite large in comparison to private attorneys, allowing them limited amount of time on each case. However, they are not going to hurt your case and without an attorney you have no fighting chance of beating a DWI. Ideally you could afford a private attorney who focuses on criminal law, but since that does not appear to be the case the Public Defender's office's I come in contact with are very good at what they do.
    Answer Applies to: North Carolina
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    NOLA Criminal Law
    NOLA Criminal Law | Townsend Myers
    If you cannot afford counsel, a public defender can be extremely beneficial. They are licensed attorneys just like a private attorney, and are capable of protecting your rights.
    Answer Applies to: Louisiana
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    The Law Offices of Jason Chan
    The Law Offices of Jason Chan | Jason Chan
    The most important thing is that you feel comfortable with your lawyer. There is a wide range of skills when it comes to any lawyer.
    Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider
    Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider | Peter Goldscheider
    Only under rare circumstances can an attorney (public defender or not) "hurt" you. At best he or she can get you a better outcome than you can do yourself.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    Ferguson & Ferguson
    Ferguson & Ferguson | Randy W. Ferguson
    It all depends on who you get appointed. There are good attorneys, and bad attorneys. Go in and let them know up front that you are not guilty. If you do not feel comfortable with them, hire your own.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    Lori C. Obenauf LLC
    Lori C. Obenauf LLC | Lori C. Obenauf
    A public defender can help you. Public Defenders are qualified attorneys just like attorneys that are in private practice. All attorneys are bound by the same code of ethics and professional requirements. Public defenders perform a valuable role in serving our communities and defending the rights of those that cannot afford to pay for a private attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Georgia
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    LT Pepper Law
    LT Pepper Law | Luke T. Pepper
    It all depends on the facts. ARD can be provided to a first time offender if no one was hurt in the incident. A lawyer would certainly be available to make sure you strike the best deal.
    Answer Applies to: Pennsylvania
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    Miller & Harrison, LLC
    Miller & Harrison, LLC | David Harrison
    Public defenders are excellent lawyers. If you qualify you should use one.
    Answer Applies to: Colorado
    Replied: 3/30/2011
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg | Eric Sterkenburg
    There are good and not so good Public defenders. An OF will help.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 3/28/2011
    The Law Offices of Gabriel Dorman
    The Law Offices of Gabriel Dorman | Gabriel Dorman
    Assuming you are not a lawyer yourself, a public defender is a much better option then trying to represent yourself in court. If you cannot afford to hire an experienced DUI lawyer then the public defender is your only option, especially if you truly feel you have a defense to the case. I hope this answer was helpful. Good luck.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 3/28/2011
    Mercado & Hartung
    Mercado & Hartung | Stephanie Hartung
    A public defender is a licensed attorney and they certainly won't hurt you as they are trained and skilled in defending clients. A couple reasons some people prefer to hire private attorneys is because they tend to have fewer cases than a public defender and can therefore devote more time to your case. Additionally, some attorneys focus their practice on DUI defense and can have more knowledge about than the public defender about defending DUIs specifically. I am a DUI attorney and I charge very reasonable fees and have a flexible payment plan. I also offer free consultations so feel free to give me a call and we can discuss your options.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 3/28/2011
    Arnold & Wadsworth
    Arnold & Wadsworth | Brian Arnold
    Usually a public defender will not be able to give you the time you need because they have so many cases. It is in your best interest to at least get a consultation from a private attorney. We offer free consultations in Ogden and Salt Lake City. Give us a call today. Thanks.
    Answer Applies to: Utah
    Replied: 3/28/2011
    Lawrence Lewis
    Lawrence Lewis | Lawrence Lewis, PC
    Why do you feel you have a fighting chance? Did you not drink at all? If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you will either represent yourself or ask for the assistance of a PD. I suspect the PD will do a better job that you, so there is nothing more to write.
    Answer Applies to: Georgia
    Replied: 3/28/2011
    Law Office of Rankin Johnson IV, LLC
    Law Office of Rankin Johnson IV, LLC | Rankin Johnson IV
    Some public defenders are stellar attorneys, with a lot of trial experience. Some are not. And all of them are overworked. If the choice is between representing yourself and having a public defender, you should unquestionably have a public defender. That attorney will almost certainly be better than no attorney at all. In the wildly unlikely event that it is not, being convicted because your attorney was incompetent is a basis to vacate the conviction. Being convicted because you represented yourself is not. And, if this is your first DUII in Oregon, you probably qualify for diversion, which will let you avoid a conviction as long as you do treatment in accordance with the diversion requirements.
    Answer Applies to: Oregon
    Replied: 3/28/2011
    Edward A. Kroll, Attorney at Law
    Edward A. Kroll, Attorney at Law | Edward A. Kroll
    If you can't afford to hire an attorney, then you have no choice but to use a public defender. The stereotype about public defenders being bad lawyers is very untrue. Some of the best lawyers I know are PD's. The downside to a PD is that they have many cases, and are hard-pressed to spend a great deal of time on any one client or case. This does not mean that they will do a bad job for you AT ALL. It simply means that you may not have unfettered access to your lawyer, and your lawyer may be very busy. Private attorneys have a much lower caseload, and can spend a great deal of time on your case. But you have to pay extra for that time. But as you said, if you can't afford to hire an attorney, you don't have much of a choice.
    Answer Applies to: Oregon
    Replied: 3/28/2011
    Klisz Law Office, PLLC
    Klisz Law Office, PLLC | Timothy J. Klisz
    Not if you are "innocent" and want to go to trial. A public defender doesn't make much money and would not put forth much of an effort to try your case. The plea is their deal of choice. Click on the link to your left to call me and discuss your specific case.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 3/28/2011
    Law Office of Andrew Roberts
    Law Office of Andrew Roberts | Andrew Stephen Roberts
    Public defenders are for the most part good attorneys. If you cannot afford a private attorney, what choice do you have?
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 3/28/2011
    The Law Office of B. Elaine Jones
    The Law Office of B. Elaine Jones | B. Elaine Jones
    Some of the public defenders are pretty good and you already said you cannot afford a private attorney. If you cannot come up with the money for an attorney give the public defender's office a chance. Good luck.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 3/28/2011
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh | Jeff Yeh
    It is always less beneficial to have a PD on a DUI case, regardless of whether the offense is a first, second, third...etc. Just to give you an idea, public defenders WILL NOT and cannot represent you at the DMV Hearing. In a DUI prosecution, the DMV proceeding is extremely important, and is completely separate from the court case and must be handled timely (you only have 10 days to request a hearing). Pleading guilty to a DUI when you don't have to will result in thousands upon thousands in fines, alcohol school fees, IID fees, insurance premium fees...etc. So really you are saving nothing at all by not hiring a competent DUI specialist to help you.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 3/28/2011
    Crippen & Cline, LC
    Crippen & Cline, LC | Stephen Howard
    It is pretty rare that a public defender will hurt your case. The biggest advantage to hiring a private attorney is that you get to choose who you hire, and your attorney probably has a smaller case load. But some of the finest criminal defense attorneys also choose to work in the public defender system. If you really can't afford an attorney, ask to have a public defender appointed. If there are problems with that attorney, you can address those problems through appropriate channels. But don't assume that just because the attorney is a public defender that he or she isn't a good attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Utah
    Replied: 3/28/2011
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