Key Differences Between Public Defenders And Private Criminal Defense Attorneys

by Legal 29 February 2024

Key Differences Between Public Defenders and Private Criminal Defense Attorneys

When facing criminal charges, individuals have the right to legal representation, whether they choose to hire a private attorney or use a public defender. Both options offer legal assistance, but there are significant differences between public defenders and private criminal defense attorneys.

Let’s take a look at the key distinctions between the two and help individuals understand their options when navigating the criminal justice system.

But, before you get into the nitty-gritty of the difference between public defenders and private criminal defense attorneys, let’s know about both types of attorneys in detail. Keep reading. 

What is a public defender? 

What is a public defender

A public defender is a defendant’s attorney appointed by the court of law. A defendant facing a criminal offense can request a public defender. But, it is not easy to request and get a public defender. One has to show that they cannot afford a private legal assistant. 

Public defenders are responsible for handling the cases handed over to them by the court. They can tell the defendant the nature of the cases against them and the potential penalties or punishments they might face if the case proves to be right. Also, they can brief the defender to understand how the entire court system works. 

A public defender is appointed by the court. So, it is natural for them to work in the best interest of the court. They will always try to resolve the case outside the court and without proceeding to a trial. It helps save the court’s time and the defendant’s money. 

What Is A Private Defender Attorney

What Is A Private Defender Attorney

A private attorney, in comparison to the public defenders, will work in the interest of the defendants who appoint them. They do not work in the best interest of the court. A private defender or private attorney would always want to ensure that your rights are maintained. They can try to resolve the case before it goes on for trial (if the defender wants that). If the defender wants, the attorney can also fight for their cases in the courtroom. 

Legal Representation

Public defenders are attorneys appointed by the court to represent individuals who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. Individuals get a public defender appointed to them and do not generally have the option to choose who it is.

They are typically employed by government agencies, such as state or county public defender offices, and provide legal representation to defendants in criminal cases (including arraignments, pretrial hearings, plea negotiations, trials, and appeals).

Private criminal defense attorneys, on the other hand, are hired by individuals or their families to provide legal representation in criminal cases.

These reputable defense attorneys work independently or as part of law firms specializing in criminal defense. Clients have the option to choose their attorney and will make this choice based on factors such as experience and expertise.


Public defenders often carry heavy caseloads due to limited resources and high demand for their services.

As government employees, public defenders are required to represent all eligible clients assigned to them by the court, regardless of the complexity or severity of the cases. This heavy caseload can sometimes affect the amount of time and attention that public defenders can dedicate to each case.

While public defenders cannot turn an eligible client away, private attorneys have the option to choose who they represent.

The result is that they typically have smaller caseloads compared to public defenders, and can provide their clients with more tailored and focused strategies. This allows them to provide more personalized attention and dedicated representation to their clients.

Resources and Expertise

The offices of public defenders often have limited resources and may face challenges in providing comprehensive legal services to clients.

Public defenders, do however, have access to resources such as legal research databases, investigative services, and support staff provided by their agencies. They also have extensive experience handling a wide range of criminal cases and may have specialized knowledge in certain areas of law.

Private attorneys have access to greater resources, often including dedicated support staff, access to expert witnesses, and the ability to hire investigators or consultants as needed for their cases.

They may also specialize in specific areas of criminal law, allowing them to offer specialized expertise and tailored defense strategies to their clients.


Affordability is one deciding factors for individuals involved in a criminal case. Where public defender services are provided at little to no cost for eligible individuals. Private attorneys charge fees for their services, which can accumulate quite quickly depending on the case.

The cost of public defender services is typically covered by government funding, such as state or county budgets, and is aimed at those who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. Eligibility for public defender services is based on income level and other factors determined by the court.

The fees of private attorneys can vary depending on factors such as the attorney’s experience, reputation, and the complexity of the case.

Private attorneys may offer different fee structures, including flat fees, hourly rates, or contingency fees, depending on the nature of the case and the client’s preferences. Clients have the option to negotiate fees and payment arrangements with their private attorney.

Client Choice and Control

Client Choice and Control

Clients assigned to public defenders may have limited control over the selection of their attorney and may not have the option to choose a specific attorney based on personal preferences or qualifications.

Public defender assignments are typically made by the court or public defender agency based on caseload and availability.

Clients hiring private attorneys have the ability to choose their attorney based on various factors. They therefore have more control over the selection process and can choose an attorney who best fits their needs and preferences.

Private attorneys work directly for their clients and prioritize their client’s interests throughout the legal process.

Public defenders and private criminal defense attorneys play essential roles in providing legal representation to individuals facing criminal charges. While both options offer legal assistance, there are significant differences between the two. Understanding these differences can help individuals make informed decisions about their legal representation and navigate the criminal justice system effectively. Whether choosing a public defender or hiring a private attorney, it’s crucial for individuals to have competent and dedicated legal representation to protect their rights and achieve the best possible outcome in their case.

Things To Consider When Choosing A Public Defender Or A Private Attorney

Things To Consider When Choosing A Public Defender Or A Private Attorney

Whether you consider a public defender or a private attorney, remember if the following parameters are met –


One of the key factors in choosing either a public defender or a private attorney is cost. A public defender is appointed by the court. Hence, the court carries all the charges and expenses related to the case. A defender does not have to spend on these cases. 

Private attorneys, on the other hand, are appointed by the defenders themselves. They charge you fees based on the type of case and their experience. 


Public defenders usually have a lot on their plates. As they are appointed by the government, they are always dealing with lots of cases. they usually have enough skills and experiences to help the defendant. Their experience and skills speak for the quality of their service. They can easily provide an adequate level of services. 

Private attorneys, on the other hand, have varying levels of skills and experience. So, a defendant has to run their research before they can find a helpful private attorney with the right skills and experience. 

Communication & Services 

When choosing a public defender, defenders usually wonder if the public defender will provide the same level of attention as the private attorneys. It is a valid concern. Since they are usually understaffed and overworked, most defenders dont expect the same level of service from them. 

On the other hand, private defenders always have ample resources, time, and support for the defendant and help them with their case. They can help the defendants build a defense strategy and even win the case. 

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Shahnawaz is a passionate and professional Content writer. He loves to read, write, draw and share his knowledge in different niches like Technology, Cryptocurrency, Travel,Social Media, Social Media Marketing, and Healthcare.

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