The Difference Between a Criminal Defense Attorney and Public Defender


In the United States, all criminal defendants have the right to an attorney. It’s right there in the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution.

But a common misconception is that this right also entitles everyone in the United States to free legal services. The truth is much more complicated than that.

If you’ve been charged with a crime, you might be confused about what all of this means and asking yourself whether or not you should hire a private attorney or try for a public defender.

In this post, we’ll learn more about

  • Public defenders

  • Private criminal defense attorneys

  • What you should look for in any attorney you work with


What to look for in an attorney

When looking for an attorney to defend you in a criminal defense case, above all else you need someone you can trust. Make sure anyone you work with believes in your case and actually wants to fight right by your side.

Other factors to look for when choosing a criminal defense attorney for your case:

  • Knowledge: Make sure they know the type of law that’s relevant to your case. The nuances of the justice system change wildly from one discipline to another. They should have training in the specific discipline related to your crime.

  • Relevant recent experience: Not only should a lawyer have experience in the type of law relevant to your case, but recent trial experience practicing it in court.

  • Reviews: Any attorney you work with should be well regarded in the community. Check their local reviews for someone with a high rating and a lot of reviews (30+).

  • Personal connection: Remember, the most important thing is to find an attorney who you can trust. You should like them and trust them to give you the advice you need.


Public defender

Public defenders are court-appointed attorneys. If you’re being charged with a crime in Oregon or anywhere else, you will be up against a trained and experienced prosecutor. The right to an attorney was created to ensure a fair trial.

While many people believe that everyone is entitled to a free court-appointed attorney, whether you are eligible or not really depends on your financial situation.

How are public defenders appointed?

If you believe you cannot afford a private attorney to represent you in your case, the process for obtaining a court-appointed public defender is as follows:

  • When you first appear in court and are arraigned on your charges, you will be given an opportunity to request from the judge a court appointed attorney.

  • You will have to show the court that you cannot afford an attorney. Some courts will require you to fill out a questionnaire under oath.

  • If you qualify, the judge will assign you a public defender paid for by public funds. If none are available, the court will hire a private attorney for you paid by public funds.

Once you’ve been assigned a court-appointed attorney, it will be your responsibility to keep in contact with the attorney. For some people, you’ll still have to pay some court fees or attorney costs. This will depend on your case and your ability to pay. This is true even if you’re found not guilty.


What are the advantages and disadvantages of a public defender?

For those who qualify, a public defender is a lower cost option. A hard reality for some defendants is that their only real option for defending themselves is through a public defender. It really is an incredible resource our country provides, and a miracle for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford representation. They are a good option for those in need.

The largest disadvantage of public defenders is the reality that they are overworked. While the system in theory works great, budgets are tight and there are a lot of people in need of a public defender. Even in the most skilled criminal defense attorney will have difficulty balancing the needs and nuances of their entire portfolio of cases.

The final disadvantage is that the element of choice is taken out of your hands. Whether or not you click personally with your public defender will not matter. If you don’t trust your attorney, you will be out of luck.


Criminal defense attorney

Criminal defense attorneys are private attorneys trained in specific areas of law and generally practice at either a large, multi-lawyer firm or smaller 1 or 2 attorney practices.

They work on cases of all types, including those involving charges related to:

Advantages to hiring a criminal defense attorney

For those fortunate enough to afford a private criminal defense attorney, there are a lot of benefits, including:

  • You can chose one that fit your case and personality: Unlike a public defender, with a criminal defense attorney you have a choice of who represents you. You can choose one who specializes in the type of law your case is relevant to. You can also choose one you personally click with and trust to do right by you.

  • They have a lighter case load: Private criminal defense attorneys are in complete control of how many cases they take on, and almost always will have far fewer clients per attorney than a public defender. More attention equals more thought put into the case and generally a better defense.

  • They can better leverage resources: Private attorneys can hire and make use of resources like expert witnesses and private investigators. This will give you a leg up and help develop a better defense.

  • Better communication: The lighter case load will lead to better communication from your attorney. Most reputable private criminal defense attorneys will have the time to answer your phone calls and promptly answer your emails. They’ll have a lot more focus on your case and will be able to know the particulars of your case deeply.

  • More experience: Although not always the case, most criminal defense attorneys will have more specialized experience. This is particularly important if you’re not planning on pleading out and will be fighting for your innocence.


Should I hire a criminal defense attorney or a public defender?

For a lot of defendants, the answer to this question will largely depend on whether they can afford a private attorney or not.

For those who can afford a private criminal defense attorney, they will generally put you in the best position to succeed. Their ability to better leverage resources in combination with their lighter workload will ensure they can put their full attention on your case and get you the results you deserve.

Call Adam Greenman Law today

Adam Greenman is an experienced private criminal defense attorney that can help put you in the best position to succeed. As a former prosecutor, he knows the legal system inside and out, giving him the experience and knowledge of the system to achieve results.

Contact Adam today to get started and schedule your free, confidential consultation.