Is a Private Attorney Better than a Public Defender? - Liberty Law

Utah has delegated the responsibility of providing criminal defense services for the poor, to the counties. This means that, within the state, each county decides the budget and quality of legal care provided to you. The quality of your legal counsel may vary greatly from county to county.

In 2010, the ACLU issued a report on Utah public defenders that said the state was failing to provide defendants with adequate representation.

“Threadbare budgets” and large caseloads
A recent Salt Lake Tribune Article stated that most counties in Utah employ a contract system method for public defense. According to the article, “this system is widely regarded as the ‘least effective and most problematic method of public defense.’”

Rather than use a public defender’s office, the county gives contracts to private attorneys, to take on low-income clients. This contract is often awarded on a bidding system—and these contracts are usually awarded to the lowest bidder, regardless of experience. There is no limit to how many clients these attorneys will need to represent.

As cited in the article, according to Ken Hart, executive director of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense, “‘[t]his provides a disincentive for attorneys to fight hard on behalf of their indigent clients.’”

An individual who must use a public defender faces several disadvantages:
1. Public defenders are not compensated for anything other than your basic representation, so they do not have incentive to come visit you in jail, to hire expert witnesses, or acquire expert witnesses to testify in your case.
2. Public defenders receive a “fixed” rate for all cases they will take that year—this makes it difficult to dedicate a lot of time and attention to your case, because they often have so many other cases to deal with.
3. Under the public defender system, your attorney will not represent you on related civil or administrative matters such as a suspended license hearing.

Even in counties where there are public defender offices, attorneys will face large workloads and limited time. In order to help these attorneys manage their caseloads, these counties may also sub-contract legal work to private attorneys, also using a bidding system.

This can seriously affect how your case is resolved. In 2007, The New York Times published a study that found the average sentence for public defender clients was almost three years longer than the sentences of individuals who had hired private attorneys.

The Advantages of Hiring a Private Attorney
As private attorneys, we control the number of cases we take, so we can give your case specialized attention. We have worked for many years with the State Attorney’s Office in Utah, Salt Lake, Wasatch, Duchesne, Carbon and other counties, and can work to make sure your side of the story is told and that you are well represented in Court. We can attend to civil or administrative matters, such as hearings regarding your suspended or revoked driver’s license. Lastly, we pride ourselves on having satisfied clients, so we will work diligently to achieve the best resolution for you

Contact us for a free case evaluation today:  801-709-6309.