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Public Defender Versus Private Attorney: Who is Best for My Case?

Public Defender Versus Private Attorney: Who is Best for My Case?

gavel on attorney's desk

For criminal defense and other cases, deciding what type of attorney to work with can feel quite daunting. Many clients we have helped initially started with the question of, “Should I hire a private attorney or apply for a public defender?” We believe securing your own legal representation is the preferred way to go, but we also acknowledge that there are certain situations where working with a public defender is the right approach.

Below we provide an overview of Maryland’s Office of the Public Defender. Thereafter, we describe what cases public defenders handle, who qualifies for their services, and whether it makes sense to apply for one or hire a private criminal defense attorney.

An Overview of Maryland’s Office of the Public Defender

The concept of offering legal counsel to indigent citizens stems from a March 18, 1963, United States Supreme Court landmark case, Gideon v. Wainwright. After this case, individual states began implementing changes to their legal systems, namely in the form of creating public defender organizations. For Maryland specifically, its Office of the Public Defender was established on July 1, 1971, by the Maryland Legislature to provide legal representation to the state’s most vulnerable citizens. According to an August 2020 Baltimore Sun article, the office consists of 700 employees, including attorneys, paralegals, and social workers, making it one of the state’s largest legal services organizations.

Who is Entitled to a Public Defender in Maryland?

Defendants must be involved with one of the following case types to qualify for a public defender:

  • Juvenile Delinquency
  • Drug Court
  • Intensive Supervision Program
  • Special Hearing Unit
  • Family Court Title 9 Child Abuse and Neglect

Additionally, an individual must submit an application via their District Court Commissioner using this form. The application, along with the defendant’s income, will be evaluated and must meet particular thresholds, as outlined below.

maryland household income thresholds for indigency

Source: Maryland Legal Services Corporation, https://www.mlsc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/2019-MLSC-Income-Guidelines-Final.pdf

Pros and Cons of Working with a Public Defender

Pros:

  • Extensive trial experience
  • Good report with the district judge
  • Frequently in a courtroom setting
  • Free legal counsel

Cons:

  • Public defenders have large case loads
  • An attorney is assigned to you versus being selected by you
  • The attorney is unable to devote lots of time to individual client cases

Why You Should Hire a Private Criminal Defense Attorney

Depending on the particulars of your case and financial situation, obtaining private counsel may be a better option. Doing so ensures your case will receive greater attention in the form of collecting evidence and testimonies, evaluating these findings, and general case preparation. This investment ultimately may lead to a better outcome for you.

If you are considering hiring a private criminal defense lawyer, request a free case review by the Albers and Associates team. Call one of our Baltimore area locations or submit an inquiry using our online contact form.