Updated: Dec 17, 2019
Even if you've never been arrested, you're probably familiar with the Miranda warning, part of which reads: "You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you."
So what happens if you have an attorney provided for you instead of hiring your own defense attorney? While choosing to use a public defender is often cheaper in the short term, it may not be worth it in the long run.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, "the accused shall have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense." The 1963 Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright found that defendants are entitled to a competent attorney, regardless of whether they can afford one or not. This is where public defenders enter the picture.
What's the Difference?
While it's true that both public defenders and private criminal defense lawyers are attorneys, there are definite advantages to hiring your own defense attorney. First off, you don't get to choose who your public defender will be. He or she will be appointed to you without any input. They are also notoriously overloaded and overworked, limiting the time they can spend on your case.
Public defenders can also be limited as to what they can do. For example, some judges can remove a public defender altogether from a case, and some states don't allow public defenders to handle administrative processes such as driver's license suspensions.
In summary, a qualified criminal defense attorney knows the court system inside and out and can take a closer look at your case while tailoring their legal strategy to your situation.