“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”

As the Miranda Rights state, if you can’t afford a lawyer, you will be able to obtain one at the expense of the state. That sounds like a pretty good deal, but there are certain elements of this right that are important to understand if you are ever facing arrest.

You must ask for an attorney in either case, and a public defender will not automatically be given to you. When you ask, you need to be unequivocal in your request – you cannot be iffy about it. In other words, you need to fully state that you need a lawyer and you won’t talk to the authorities until you speak with one, otherwise, a court may decide that you did not invoke your rights.

Public Defenders

According to the Sixth Amendment in the United States Constitution, defendants who are facing incarceration may receive a court-appointed lawyer (also known as a public defender) if they cannot afford one. While this has always been a federal law, it is only as of 1963 applicable for state-level felonies, and even later to misdemeanor cases.

In North Carolina, there are 16 districts with public defender offices. The court with jurisdiction will appoint the public defender for the case; the defendant will not have a choice in who represents them in this scenario and may find it difficult to receive a new public defender should they not get along with the one the court appoints.

Public defenders are employees of the state government, and as such make significantly less than private representation. They also often get inundated with cases, which can limit the amount of time a public defender can focus on any one case. These issues combined can cause public defenders to prepare insubstantially for an effective solution for their clients.

It is also common for public defenders to attempt plea deals in order to get through as many cases as possible. This is a necessary strategy at times due to overwhelming caseloads, but it can make for a subpar legal defense strategy and may lead to a conviction that could have been reduced or eliminated if more time had been spent on the case.

It is also important to note that should the defendant be found guilty, they will have to pay the state back for the public defender’s work.

Private Legal Representation

Private lawyers are ideal for those who have the funds, which can be substantial especially for felony cases. However, there are many reasons to opt for private representation despite the cost.

When you hire a private lawyer, they bill you for the time they spend on your case, which means they will be able to spend significantly more time on your defense than a public defender, whether in research, background, working to get a case dismissed or finding holes in the prosecution’s case.

Private lawyers often have extensive teams to assist with everything from maintaining day-to-day processes, to uncovering evidence, to finding and hiring key witnesses and experts, to ensuring that every minute detail of a case is covered.

As a client, the defender has a much greater say in who they choose for their counsel and when they need to meet with their legal team. Private lawyers are reliant on clients to continue their work, so they will do their best to keep their clients satisfied.