First of all, it is up to the court to determine if you financially qualify for the services of a public defender. It is not an option that is available to everyone. However, even if you do qualify for free legal representation, that doesn’t mean you should accept. When your future and your freedom are at risk, using a public defender might not be the best decision you can make.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Entrusting Your Case to a Public Defender
There are two big advantages to using a public defender (PD)—you will have someone on your side who knows the law, and it will cost you nothing. If this is your only option, using a public defender is better than having no lawyer at all or trying to represent yourself.
However, public defenders do not provide the best legal assistance available for several reasons. The typical public defender is:
- Inexperienced. Many public defenders are recent law school graduates. They have passed the bar and are qualified attorneys, but they do not have the experience under their belts that could make the difference between an acquittal and a conviction. Other public defenders might be lawyers who have not been successful in private practice either because they lack legal defense skills or because they are not committed to working hard for their clients.
- Overworked. Even the most knowledgeable and well-meaning PDs have their hands tied because their caseloads are unmanageable. The average PD in Florida has around 200 open and active cases at any given time. Building a smart defense takes time and resources, and most PDs don’t have either.
- Underpaid. You know the saying—you get what you pay for. Public defenders are paid much less than private attorneys, which is how the state is able to provide them at no charge. How hard would you work knowing you’re earning a fraction of what you should be making as a lawyer? Exactly!
This is not to bash public defenders. They do invaluable work and are a vital part of our criminal justice system. In fact, I worked in the public defender’s office when I first graduated from law school. I gained valuable experience, but I could not put as much time and effort into every case as I would have liked to because of the pressures of the job.
What Can You Do if You Have Limited Resources?
We advise defendants to think hard about possible sources of money to pay for legal representation because we know that hiring a private defense attorney can make a big difference in their cases. Do you have family members who would be willing to help out? Can you manage to borrow money for a short period of time? Do you have little or no credit card debt? These resources could help you afford a better attorney than the state will provide.
At Flaherty & Merrifield, we offer free, in-person consultations to anyone who contacts us about a case. During the meeting, we will learn the details of your case to determine how complicated it will be. Then, we will give you an exact quote for what we would charge to represent you. We do not bill by the hour—all of our fees are a flat rate, and we never add on extra costs later on. And we put that in writing.
When you work with our team, you will get:
- Personal attention
- Immediate answers to your questions
- Private meetings outside of court
- A defense based on the facts of your case, not a cookie-cutter deal
We accept credit cards and offer payment plans to make it possible for people to pay for our services. We are not the cheapest firm in town, but we are also not the most expensive, and our results speak for themselves.