Why shouldn’t I just use a public defender?

Ask Fred Mardlin, a 32-year-old father who spent three years in a Michigan jail for an arson crime he says he did not commit. His public defender was not able to get the financial resources approved to hire an expert to show the fire was an electrical fire that was not intentionally set. As a result of his public defender’s budget restraints, Fred Mardlin went to prison for arson and insurance fraud.

Cases like Mardlin’s are not unique in Michigan because of the overburdened and underfunded public defense system that fails us in many ways.

..."anyone who can afford to hire a private attorney should do so." -- Quote from the Washtenaw County public defender website.

Three Downsides of Using a Public Defender

Public defenders are government-paid, court-appointed attorneys. They are limited in their time, resources, choices, and authority. A lawyer in a private law firm is not.

Perhaps the three most important downsides to consider when deciding on whether or not using a public defender is right for you are:

  • Heavy caseload. Public defenders are overworked. In Michigan, a public defender typically handles 100 to 200 cases at a time and in many situations may not even have your case information in front of him or her until a day before you go to court. That simply is not enough time to prepare a good legal defense.

  • They are not specialized. Public defenders are licensed attorneys, but they are not specialized and because of a high turnover of clients may not have the solid field experience a seasoned private attorney has. Using a public defender is like going to a family doctor when you really need a heart surgeon.

  • They lack resources. Investigating, preparing a case, and hiring experts takes money and manpower. Public defenders must request funds to pay for costs associated with a defense (or the costs may be passed along to the defendant) and they lack support staff. In the case of Fred Mardlin, a lack of funds to properly prepare his case led to a conviction. The outcome for him would have likely been entirely different had he hired a private lawyer.

Public Defenders Are Not Necessarily Free

Public defenders are appointed to those who cannot afford an attorney. Generally, you must apply for a public defender and a judge must approve your application before appointing an attorney for you. Contrary to what most people think, public defenders are not usually free. You may be required to reimburse some of your court costs and attorneys fees based on the charges, the verdict, your ability to pay, and even as a condition of parole (Defendants' Rights to a Court Appointed Attorney).

The Cost of Cutting Corners on a Legal Defense

The price of trying to cut costs on a legal defense is a dramatically increased risk of being found guilty and sentenced to a harsher penalty than what would occur if you hire a private defense attorney.

The bottom line is that no matter how competent or dedicated a public defender is, he or she often lacks time, and financial, and other resources to thoroughly investigate a case and launch an aggressive defense.

The U.S. Has One of the Highest Rates of Incarceration in the Industrialized World

In the United States people are sent to jail or prison at a rate that is eight times higher than other industrialized nations. In Michigan, that average may be even higher, in part because of the overburdened, crumbling public defender system. As more people rely on public defenders, the system becomes even more overburdened.

Unfortunately, innocent people who do not have aggressive and competent legal counsel sometimes do end up in jail. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Michigan criminal justice system is notorious for miscarriage of justice:

"Faces of Failing Public Defense Systems, a new report issued by the ACLU, ACLU of Michigan and the Campaign For Justice, shows how Michigan’s crumbling public defense system allows innocent individuals to become collateral damage as a result of inadequate legal representation."

Don't Risk Your Future, Invest in an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today

The cost of mounting a solid legal defense may seem challenging. To help you, we take major credit cards and keep our fees reasonable to provide you with better access to a high quality legal defense. The cost of not hiring an experienced, private criminal defense attorney could be a criminal record, jail time, and/or stiff financial penalties. Don’t jeopardize your future. Contact our Michigan criminal defense law offices immediately for a free initial consultation.