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The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney

Facing serious criminal charges is incredibly stressful for many reasons. Most obviously, depending on the nature of the allegations and your prior record, spending time in jail may be a genuine possibility. For many, the financial burden of hiring a criminal defense attorney only adds to the stress.

Those charged with a crime have two or three options, depending on their income. You can represent yourself, have a public defender appointed to your case (if you qualify), or retain your own criminal defense attorney. Each of these options has its benefits and its drawbacks.

Representing Yourself in a Criminal Trial

The United States Constitution provides every defendant with the right to counsel. While this does not include having the attorney of your choice, it does allow you to represent yourself. This is referred to as representing yourself “pro se.”

The clear benefit to proceeding pro se is that it is free. However, for most, the pitfalls of representing yourself outweigh the money saved. For example, you may not know the nuances of the criminal laws in play, and even if you located the relevant case law, you probably do not have the legal background necessary to interpret the cases as the court would. You will also be at a disadvantage because you will not be familiar with the judge or the district attorney handling your case. Representing yourself can also raise issues if you plan on testifying, because you will not have an attorney to conduct a direct examination.

Having a Public Defender Appointed to Represent You

The second option for those facing criminal charges is to allow the court to appoint a public defender to represent you. Importantly, not everyone will qualify for a public defender, as the court will allow a public defender to represent you only if you are “indigent,” meaning you make less than a certain amount of money per year.

However, even if you qualify for a public defender, it may not be the best option for you. Most public defenders are dedicated advocates, and they undoubtedly know the judges and district attorneys very well, as they are in court almost every day. However, they also have enormous caseloads. This can prevent a public defender from devoting the amount of time needed to uncover all the issues in your case.

Hiring a Dedicated Criminal Defense Attorney

The last option is to hire a criminal defense attorney to represent you. While hiring a private criminal defense attorney costs money, unlike the other two options, you typically get what you pay for. Dedicated criminal defense lawyers have fewer clients than public defenders and can fully dedicate themselves to your case. They will examine every possible defense and work closely with you to develop a strategy. Private criminal defense attorneys are also easier to get hold of, in case you have any questions about your case. For those who can afford to do so, hiring a lawyer may be the best option.


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