February 27, 2023 By Bryan Powell

What Is a Public Defender?

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 In criminal prosecutions, all defendants have a right to an attorney under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution. Public defenders provide legal defense for those who are not financially able to employ counsel. Public defenders are licensed attorneys and are paid by the government to provide representation. While the Constitution guarantees your right to an attorney, you typically cannot pick who your public defender will be. Rest assured, though, public defenders are very familiar with the court system in their region since they spend a large amount of time negotiating with prosecutors and handling court appearances. 

What Does a Public Defender Do? 

Generally, public defenders represent those charged with any contempt or offense triable in the superior or municipal court at all stages of criminal proceedings. This includes minors if their parents are financially unable or unwilling to obtain counsel in juvenile court proceedings. Public defenders also represent people unable to obtain counsel in psychiatric court if these proceedings can result in detention or incarceration. 

The duties of a public defender are similar to those of any other attorney: to provide legal consultation and service to clients. Public defenders represent clients through criminal investigative proceedings, create plans for legal defenses, and conduct investigative legal research. This often consists of directing field investigations to identify and interview witnesses and collect information. Public defenders usually work closely with their clients to discuss relevant information on the case and legal strategies. Additionally, they negotiate plea deals with prosecutors, represent clients at trial, and handle post-conviction matters such as appeals. 

Difference Between Public Defender and Private Attorney 

Public defenders typically provide horizontal representation, which means that each phase of the case is assigned to a different public defender. One public defender may handle the initial bail and arraignment phase, while another may represent the defendant at trial. This is in contrast with vertical representation by private attorneys, where the same lawyer handles the case from start to finish. The horizontal representation system can be concerning for defendants if they feel that each public defender will not be as familiar with the case as they would be if they had been on the case from start to finish. In theory, however, the public defender’s office should have detailed case notes for each successive attorney. 

Another key difference between public defenders and private attorneys is that defendants cannot choose a specific public defender. Rather, judges appoint the public defender office to represent the defendant. The main downside to this is that defendants cannot simply opt for another attorney if the public defender office in their area is overworked or ineffective. However, there are safeguards to prevent this from happening. Usually, more experienced public defenders are assigned to the later phases of the case. For example, an attorney who has handled many trials will likely handle the trial phase of a case. Additionally, if a defendant feels that the public defender has not performed his duties competently, the defendant may make a motion to seek new counsel. 

Contact Wallin & Klarich Today 

Everyone deserves a competent defense team. If you feel that your public defender has not skillfully navigated your case, contact our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich today. With 40+ years of experience, Wallin & Klarich has helped thousands of clients fight their criminal charges and succeed. Our attorneys know the most effective strategies to help you achieve the best possible outcome. 

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Torrance, West Covina, Los Angeles, and San Diego, you are sure to find a Wallin & Klarich lawyer available to help you in a convenient location.  Discover how our team can assist you. Contact us today, toll-free at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free consultation with a skilled defense attorney.

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