Can you beat a DUI with a public defender?
A DUI charge is an extremely serious offense, which is why the penalties for a DUI conviction can be so severe. You can have your driver’s license revoked, you can end up paying huge fines, and you can even get jail time. That is why you want the best possible defense when facing a DUI charge. An attorney who specializes in DUI cases is ideal, but what if, for some reason, that option is not available to you? If you cannot get an experienced DUI lawyer, then you may have to make do with a public defender instead. Can you get adept representation from a public defender? Keep reading to find out.
What is a Public Defender?
When a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, that individual is declared to be indigent and a public defender is assigned to them. The public defender’s office is a government-funded agency that provides lawyers to indigent defendants; a public defender is one of those lawyers. If a defendant is indigent, then the court appoints a public defender’s office to represent them and the office assigns a public defender to represent that individual.
There are certain assumptions and misconceptions related to public defenders, some of which have a basis in the truth. One of them is that public defenders are often underfunded, underpaid, and overworked. This can be true in many cases since public defenders often have a heavy workload. There is a recommended limit to how many cases a public defender can take, but many of them go over the limit because there are not enough public defenders to go around.
That is a result of the underpaid assumption, which is also sometimes true. The lower salary means that many lawyers do not choose to become public defenders, instead choosing to join the private sector. One misconception is that public defenders are bad lawyers but that is not usually the case. Rather, public defenders are dedicated attorneys who believe in helping people who cannot afford a private lawyer. If they underperform, then that is because they typically have a huge caseload that any talented attorney would struggle to balance.
Private DUI Defense Lawyers
When you select a private DUI attorney, the motivation and attitude is often different. Private attorneys are inherently hungrier for wins in the courtroom and they’re often very crafty. You will want to choose a private attorney with a lot of experience and a great track record so that you can be sure he or she knows their way around a court room. Private lawyers go into great detail about how to get their clients off the hook. That’s because this is their livelihood. A public defender is an employee while a private attorney is self-employed. His or her track record will make or break their business. For that reason, you may be getting a better deal when you go with a private attorney in these cases.
A Privately Retained DUI Lawyer Can Appear In Court Without You
Unless you’re charged with a felony DUI or a misdemeanor DUI, but with a separate felony charge, a privately DUI lawyer can appear in court on your behalf. This would not be the case if you were represented by a public defender. Although your non-appearance in court will not offer any strategic advantage in the defense of your case, it is a convenience many of clients appreciate as a diligent and thorough DUI pretrial period could involve multiple court appearances over the span of several months.
What Can Court-Appointed Attorneys Help With?
A DUI arrest normally results in two separate proceedings: an administrative proceeding through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and a criminal case. Although a DUI conviction will normally result in license suspension, the DMV can suspend a driver’s license even without a conviction in criminal court. The implied consent laws of most states require the DMV to administratively suspend the license of any driver who was arrested for driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more.
Drivers who want to contest an administrative license suspension must request a hearing. At these administrative DMV hearings, there’s no right to court-appointed counsel. Defendants who want legal representation at the administrative hearing must hire an attorney.
When Is an Attorney Appointed?
At the first court appearance (usually the arraignment), the judge will typically advise defendants of the right to have an attorney and ask if they want a court-appointed lawyer. The defendant can opt to hire a private attorney or request that the judge appoint an attorney. Though generally not advisable, defendants also have the option of waiving the right to counsel and representing themselves (called “pro se”).
An appointed lawyer generally continues to represent the defendant through all criminal court proceedings resulting from the defendant’s DUI arrest.
Is a Public Defender as Good as a Private Attorney?
It’s hard to definitely say whether hiring a private attorney will get you a better outcome than a public defender. However, her are some factors you might want to consider.
If you can’t afford an attorney, you will benefit from a public defender’s efforts. But public defenders, because of their heavy workload, typically won’t be able to spend a lot of time explaining things to you and giving you special attention.
If you want to make sure you have substantial one-on-one time with a lawyer and you can afford to hire one, you may be better served by a private lawyer.
Of course, some practical realities can also affect the quality of legal representation. For example, PDs may be overworked and understaffed, but they usually know the courtroom players well and also take quite a few cases to trial. This experience can be a valuable asset in defending against any charge.
One reason that weighs in favor of hiring a private attorney is to represent you in administrative DMV hearings. A private attorney can represent you at both the court and DMV hearings, but a PD will represent you only in court (because the DMV hearing has no potential for jail time). Because DMV hearings are typically held prior to DUI trials, it may benefit you to have an attorney present at the DMV hearing to preview the evidence to be used against you at trial.