Public Defenders v. Private Attorneys

I recently listened to a podcast by an experienced criminal attorney, who happens to be a public defender, named Elena Saris, talking about the differences between public defenders and private attorneys. While her blog focused on statistics of the outcome of cases by each type of attorney and the inherent bias in the criminal justice system against poor people, she made a very good point about the perception of public defenders which is generally bad. In my experience as a former state prosecutor and in my 10 plus years of private practice, I just don't think that's true. Public Defenders, and by that I mean those full time paid employees of the State, are generally great lawyers with tons of trial experience. In fact, for those attorneys who make the public defenders office a career, they have an incredible amount of experience, drive, and passion. What more could anyone want when they are charged with a crime? One of the most important things many private attorneys have that public defenders don't have, is that we were former state prosecutors. I was, in Pinellas County, and Daniel Pawuk was in Hillsborough and Pinellas. As prosecutors, we looked at cases very differently than defense attorneys do. We got to talk to the police about their reports, their witness interviews, the crime scenes. We often went with the police to look at crime scenes or serve search warrants, or simply ride along on a police shift. That kind of experience is priceless. And it makes you see and look at things very differently than an attorney who has only done criminal defense work. overworked1Another important difference is that the public defender doesn't get involved until FORMAL CHARGES ARE FILED. Anyone who is a client has heard my spiel about how just because you are "arrested" doesn't mean that formal charges will be filed. After your arrest, the police and witnesses meet with the State Attorney to discuss the facts of the case. The State Attorney makes the decision as to whether or not formal charges will be filed. So after your arrest, there is time to get the charges dropped. That's where I come in. No one hears your side of the story, and no one will, unless you hire a private attorney. For example, lets say you are charged with possession of prescription pills, a 3rd degree felony in Florida punishable by up to 5 years in prison. After your arrest, you tell me that the pills actually belonged to your friend who was in the car earlier in the day. The friend is willing to write a statement that the pills belong to her and she left them in your car. She also provides a printout of the prescription from her doctor and a pharmacy receipt. Those are excellent way to get the charge against you dropped - but no one will hear those points if an attorney doesn't talk to the State before the charges are filed. Once formal charges are filed they are much harder to get dropped or reduced. But here is the real difference, in Florida anyway. On average, I have about 20-30 cases I'm working on at any given time, sometimes less. I have several private investigators that I work with, access to experts, a subscription to all of the most up to date online legal research I can possibly read, and TIME. On a slow day, the public defenders that I know, have about 100 cases that they are actively working on, and statistics show that number is higher. So I have time to research my clients cases and time to read the police reports 10 times, and time to consider all of the angles, and time to talk to my client three times a day. It's often in the twentieth conversation I've had with a client when I have that "ah hah" moment.
Categories: Lawyers