Why Not Just Use a Public Defender for My Felony Case?

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The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that if you are accused of a crime, you have a right to the assistance of counsel in defending yourself. The way that we accomplish this in modern times is through local public defenders.  If you cannot afford to pay a private attorney to defend you, then you have a right to ask the court to appoint a public defender to represent you. These are fully licensed criminal defense attorneys, many of whom may be quite skilled.  So, why not just use a public defender? It boils down to three things: time, resources, and experience.


The sad fact is that crime and poverty are often connected. As a 2011 article by Poverties.org points out, low income and unemployment are strong predictors of crime. Nevertheless, despite one in four American children being on food stamps, as of the time of the report, crime in general declined among low-income Americans. Still, the fact remains that a large number of criminal defendants have limited resources to pay for legal services. This is often due to:

  • Lack of stable employment (due to prior convictions)
  • Lack of income
  • Lack of family support
  • Drug or alcohol addiction

For these reasons, public defenders are often overwhelmed with a heavy caseload of highly complicated cases. Since public defenders generally do not get a lot of control over the types of cases or the volume of clients they must represent, they often are forced to rush through cases, take plea agreements that maybe are better being taken to trial, or they simply miss important details due to the lack of available time to devote to a file.


The Constitution guarantees that you get a lawyer. Of course, the Constitution says nothing about how much funding states and local governments must spend on that defense. In most parts of the country, public defenders are paid less than prosecutors and judges. In fact, in some parts of the country, prosecutors may be paid as much as 33 percent more than public defenders. The government generally provides better funding for clerical staff and other resources for the prosecutors than it does for public defenders.

If your case requires a lot of investigation, experts, or scientific or medical consultation, the government will likely have available resources to obtain the evidence it needs. Your public defender, however, may not have the same resources.


While there are definitely public defenders out there with 20 or more years of experience handling criminal cases, it’s a small number. The reason? High turnover and attrition rates. A lot of newer attorneys will accept lower paying public defender positions to get trial experience early in their careers. Once those attorneys have the skills and experience, they often move on to better paying positions in the private sector. In fact, one state is even being sued over the problem, because there are too many cases and not enough public defender resources to adequately represent defendants.

Trust Your Felony Case to an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

Let’s be clear; there are plenty of wonderful public defenders who fight hard for their clients. But even the best attorney will struggle without the resources and time needed to do the job. As a former prosecutor, David Aylor knows what it takes to both prosecute and defend serious criminal cases. When your freedom, liberty, livelihood, and family are on the line, don’t take chances with underfunded government attorneys. Call the David Aylor Law Offices to set up a consultation today.



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