What You Need To Know About Court-Appointed Public Defenders

by | Jan 23, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Court-Appointed Public Defenders Are Good Lawyers Stuck In a Bad System

If you face criminal charges and an El Paso County judge presents you with the opportunity to get the help of court-appointed public defenders who will represent you for free, it may seem like an offer you can’t refuse. But you may be making a significant and costly mistake by taking advantage of that offer and deciding to rely on a court-appointed criminal defense lawyer to fight your charges instead of retaining a private defense lawyer.

That’s not because the attorneys at the El Paso County public defender’s office aren’t talented or hard-working – indeed, many of them are. But the nature of our criminal justice system is such that these lawyers may not have the time, resources, or ability to give your case the attention it needs and the aggressive representation you deserve.

Right To Counsel vs. The Right Counsel

Under the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, every criminal defendant has the right to counsel. Specifically, that amendment (that also guarantees the right to a speedy trial) states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall… have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” When you hear a police officer on a TV show or in a movie tell an arrestee that they “have the right to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you…,” they are referring to the Sixth Amendment.

While this sounds good in theory, the practical application does not always work out as intended. For many reasons, the public defender system is fragile and may not provide defendants with a truly robust and effective defense. The American Bar Association, like many other observers of the system, identified several fundamental issues which undermine the ability of court-appointed public defenders to serve their clients, including that they:

  • Struggle with unreasonably high workloads
  • Don’t receive adequate funding and resources
  • Are plagued with judicial or political interference and a lack of independence
  • Lack sufficient training, supervision, and client communication

Breaking these issues down, here are three reasons why criminal defendants should think twice before relying on court-appointed public defenders:

James - court-appointed public defenders are overworkedNot Enough Time

Preparing a solid defense takes time. But court-appointed public defenders may have hundreds of cases to handle simultaneously, with a constant and overwhelming stream of new defendants and cases every day. This means they may have little time to look at, prepare for, and strategize about your case. What may need hours of their attention only gets minutes right before going into court to defend you. If you have questions or concerns, you may have to wait days for your attorney to get back to you

Not Enough Resources

A robust defense often requires resources other than just a good lawyer. Investigators, expert witnesses, and tracking eyewitnesses and others take time and money. A lack of funding and other resources means that court-appointed public defenders often don’t have the tools to mount an effective defense – even when they have the time to craft one.

More Pressure to Plead Guilty

With so many cases to handle and more coming in every day, court-appointed public defenders understandably want to close and resolve as many criminal cases as they can as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this pressure to get cases off the docket can translate into pressure on a defendant to plead guilty, even when that may not be the best course of action.

While there are certain situations where accepting a plea bargain may be the best option, the decision to do so should be based on the facts and circumstances of the case, not the facts and circumstances of the defense lawyer.

Related: Why Former Prosecutors Are the Best Criminal Defense Attorneys

A Court-Appointed Criminal Defense Lawyer May Cost You Much More In The Long Run

If paying fees for the services of a private defense attorney makes you inclined to rely on a public defender, consider the potential cost of putting your future in the hands of a good lawyer stuck in a lousy system.

A criminal conviction can result in the loss of your liberty. Can you put a dollar value on six months of your life? A year? Five years? 30?

Even if fines are all that you may face, a criminal conviction and record can have long-term consequences on multiple aspects of your life – your ability to get a job, obtain student loans, or even remain in the country, to name a few.

Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney, on the other hand, can result in these costly outcomes, and perhaps even the fines themselves, being reduced or avoided.

Facing Criminal Charges? Don’t Leave Your Future in the Hands of Over-Worked Court-Appointed Public Defenders

If you find yourself choosing between court-appointed public defenders and hiring a tenacious criminal defense lawyer to represent your interests, there are many good reasons to go with the latter.

Without a doubt, court-appointed public defenders are hard-working attorneys who want the best outcome for their clients. But as you can see from this article, much is working against them.

The criminal defense attorneys at James Newby Law use the experience and insight they gained as prosecutors to aggressively yet ethically defend the rights of individuals facing criminal charges of all kinds. And they will bring every resource, commit all the time, and dedicate all their focus to you and your case.

Don’t wait; speak with a Colorado Springs criminal defense attorney today to arrange your free, confidential initial consultation.

James Newby

James Newby

James Newby is a criminal defense attorney in Colorado Springs and the managing attorney of the criminal justice law firm James Newby Law. James got into law because of a deep-rooted passion for helping good people that may have made a poor choice that could have lasting consequences.