Under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, all persons have the right to an attorney in any criminal proceedings. Those facing potential jail time in a criminal trial must be provided with an attorney, or they will not be able to sentenced by the state. To meet this constitutional requirement, criminal courts will appoint an attorney to defend an individual facing criminal charges.
In Oklahoma, this can be done through an official public defender’s office, or the court may appoint a private attorney to represent a defendant. If a defendant has no other choice but to use the services of a public defender, then they should certainly do so, but a person should not work with a public defender merely because they are “free.” Here are several reasons why.
Not Everyone Can Work With a Public Defender
First off, a court will only appoint a public defender if it determines that you are unable to retain a private attorney. You will have to fill out an application for an appointment of a public defender demonstrating your financial need, and, as part of this, you will have to swear under penalty of perjury that what you are saying is true. You will also need to have spoken with three attorneys about representing you before applying for a public defender appointment.
There is no specific income cut-off for when a public defender will be appointed, but the court will consider “all aspects of your current financial situation, including income, savings, assets, financial obligations, debts, and bankruptcies.”
You Will Not Be Able to Choose Your Public Defender
If the court does appoint you a public defender, you will not be able to select your own attorney. There are some great, dedicated attorneys working in public defenders’ offices across the country, and there are some that are not particularly gifted or dedicated to serving their clients’ interests. Frankly, while many public defenders are heroic, talented lawyers, there is not much external pressure to get results in the same way there is with a private attorney who depends on satisfied clients and referrals to grow his business.
Many attorneys start out in public defender offices right out of school to get experience, and for others it may be their only option, but you should think twice before putting your freedom and future in the hands of an unknown person who might be learning on the job and making rookie mistakes.
Public Defenders are Notoriously Overworked and Underpaid
No matter how talented your public defender might be, Oklahoma public defenders are notoriously overworked and are often required to deal with dozens of cases at once, if not more.
The Oklahoman reported several years back that there was widespread turnover in the Oklahoma County Public Defender office due to the low pay and the high caseloads, with one attorney reporting having 100 felony cases in her caseload when she finally resigned, including capital murder trials.
Think About What You Are Giving Up By Not Hiring a Private Attorney
With the uncertainty and the lack of adequate attention that you might get when working with a public defender, you should think long and hard about your options before going with a public defender. Regardless of the severity of your sentence, you want an attorney who can devote the time necessary to build your best defense, and with whom you feel personally comfortable in representing your interests.
Get Experienced Defense in Your Oklahoma Criminal Matter
Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney Patrick Quillian is a former Oklahoma district attorney who relies on his years of experience in prosecuting cases to provide the best possible defense for all defendants. If you are facing criminal charges and/or investigation for a felony or misdemeanor in Oklahoma, contact the office of J. Patrick Quillian, Attorney at Law, today at 405-896-9768 to schedule a free consultation to see what his criminal defense team can do for you.