Is a public defender or private criminal lawyer right for you?
Facing criminal charges is an incredibly stressful and frightening experience your future, reputation, freedom, and livelihood the line. The most important early decision is whether to use a public defender or hire a private criminal defense lawyer to represent you. This choice influences the outcome of your case.
The most obvious difference between public defenders and private attorneys is cost. Public defenders are lawyers appointed by the court to represent defendants’ lawyers. Their services are free to qualified defendants. However, they are paid a government salary and often have high caseloads.
Private best law firm in winnipeg charge hourly rates or flat fees. Their rates vary greatly depending on experience, demand, and location. On average you expect to pay $200-$500+ per hour. Less serious misdemeanours fee of $1,000-$3,000. Serious felonies often range from $10,000-$25,000+ in total fees. Retainers are usually required upfront. It is out of reach for many defendants. But legal fees should not be your only consideration.
Time and attention
The public defenders take on numerous cases. That severely limits the time they dedicate to each client compared to a private attorney, who has more control over their workload. Public defenders typically only spend an hour or less with defendants for the entire case pre-trial. They often first meet clients just minutes before hearings. Private criminal lawyers have more time to thoroughly interview clients, conduct investigations, research defenses, prepare motions, advocate for reduced charges or sentences, and mount a more robust defense. Their attention is not stretched across as many cases.
Experience and Expertise
Public defenders gain a lot of courtroom experience very quickly heavy caseloads limit their ability to deeply specialize in one area of criminal law. Private practice lawyers have more flexibility to focus on specific types of criminal cases like DUI, drug crimes, domestic violence, sex offenses, or white-collar crimes. Their daily practice centered on similar cases makes them intimately familiar with the nuances of prosecuting and defending them.
Public defender offices certainly have their fair share of talented attorneys. But their compensation packages rarely allow them to attract the cream of the crop coming out of law school. The top graduates usually earn much higher salaries through big firm jobs or private practice.
Access to investigators and resources
Having the finances to hire private investigators, forensic experts, and other specialists could make a huge difference in your criminal case. Public defender budgets typically do not allow for this. Their resources are much more limited compared to privately hired representation.
If your case requires compiling evidence, questioning witnesses, reviewing records, or more research beyond what a public defender has time for, a private lawyer may be needed. Complex financial crimes or cases with little physical evidence often demand more investigation.
Plea bargaining advantages
Over 90% of criminal cases end with plea bargains rather than jury trials. An experienced private lawyer with a proven track record of winning at trial may hold important leverage when negotiating with prosecutors for reduced sentences or dismissal of charges. Public defenders with less time or trial experience wield less influence during plea deals.
Freedom of choice
Public defenders are randomly assigned to cases. Defendants’ private representation has the power to choose who will represent them. Look for a criminal lawyer with personality traits and a defense style you are comfortable with. Do they fight aggressively or take a diplomatic approach? Also, ensure they have experience defending charges similar to yours.