It can be an intimidating experience for someone who has been charged with a criminal offense to walk into a courthouse, whether it’s the Monmouth County Courthouse in Freehold, or elsewhere in New Jersey. It can be even more daunting when you’re asked whether you want to plead guilty or not guilty and whether you want to accept a plea deal offered by the prosecutor.
Fortunately, every defendant charged with a felony in New Jersey is entitled to be represented by a lawyer who will not only defend you but help you navigate the complex legal system.
It’s up to you
The question is then whether you want to be represented by a private defense attorney or – if you qualify – a public defender.
To be clear, a public defender is appointed by the court to your case, while a private lawyer is one selected by you or your family.
From our perspective, you will be better served by hiring an attorney than you would be by a public defender. The main advantage for a public defender is cost, of course.
Dispelling a myth
On its website, the state of New Jersey dispels a myth about representation by a public defender: “Contrary to popular belief, however, the representation is not free.”
When your case has concluded, the defender is required by law to collect “an extremely reasonable fee.”
Let’s look at why it makes sense to hire a private attorney rather than a public defender.
Time and money
Unfortunately, public defenders are underpaid and overworked. They typically have large workloads that require them to get through cases quickly.
That means it’s likely that your case won’t get the attention it deserves. Because of the amount of work they have to do, public defenders often simply don’t have as much time to research facts, investigate the case against you and fully develop a defense strategy.
A private criminal defense attorney typically has a smaller caseload and isn’t forced by time constraints to accept an unfavorable plea deal.
A private attorney also has access to resources such as expert witnesses that are often simply unavailable to public defenders.
Communication and availability
One of the biggest differences between the two is in communication and availability. Because private attorneys have manageable caseloads, they’re typically more responsive to client calls and emails and accessible for updates about your case.
It’s unfortunate that so many public defenders are so overworked. They often don’t get to show how capable they are and how much they care about clients until they enter private practice.