Some public defenders in Cobb County are experienced professionals who are dedicated to their clients’ rights. Others are overworked, underpaid, and just looking to get by. Recently, the New York Times profiled a New Orleans public defender who was juggling close to two hundred felony clients simultaneously. “The workload can be overwhelming even under the best circumstances, and most offices never experience the best circumstances,” he admitted. “Most offices don’t have paralegals, law clerks, or full-time investigators,” he added.
So, to answer the question at hand, you can beat a case with a public defender, if you happen to get a good one. But defendants have absolutely no voice in this matter. Judges unilaterally assign either public defenders or court-appointed lawyers to indigent clients. If the one you get is the next Clarence Darrow, that’s great. If yours is borderline incompetent, too bad.
Unfortunately, there are so many criminal defense lawyers in Cobb County that selecting one can feel almost like a lottery. Fortunately, upon closer inspection, some clear differences emerge. Selecting the right Marietta criminal defense lawyer might be the most important decision in your life. So, it’s very important to get it right.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees everyone the right to a lawyer. But this Constitutional amendment does not guarantee everyone the right to a free lawyer. Judges can and do impose restrictions on this process.
Frequently, defendants who are out on bail are ineligible for court-appointed lawyers or public defenders. Judges assume, perhaps wrongly, that if a defendant can afford bail, s/he can also afford to hire a Marietta criminal defense lawyer.
What’s the net effect? Many public assistance lawyers handle mostly jail cases, which are mostly pleas. So, when it comes to trial preparation and presentation, they often have little experience.
The aforementioned lack of staff is an issue here as well. The more time lawyers spend answering phones and typing letters, the less time they spend meeting with clients and evaluating their cases. In other words, lawyer understaffing affects the quality of representation.
Between the lack of experience and the lack of resources, many public assistance lawyers are dangerously unqualified, either because they lack legal expertise, or they are too busy to bring all their skills to bear.
Do you think if you get stuck with a bad lawyer you might get another shot with a better Marietta criminal defense lawyer? Think again. The legal standard for effective assistance of counsel is quite low. Most courts use the “glass mirror test.” Metaphorically, judges hold a mirror against the attorney’s nose. If the mirror fogs up, the defendant had effective assistance of counsel.
For example, in Texas in 1984, an attorney repeatedly fell asleep during a death penalty trial. A higher court initially ruled that the lawyer’s naps did not constitute malpractice. Eventually, an even higher court reversed that ruling. The defendant wound up pleading guilty and receiving three life sentences. He’ll most likely die in jail, but at least he won’t die in the death chamber.
Private Defense Attorneys
This case illustrates an important point about public assistance lawyers. No matter how incompetent they are, it’s almost impossible to “fire” one of these attorneys. Judges only allow substitutions in very rare cases. Personally, I’ve heard of a few, but never witnessed one.
Private attorneys, however, have contracts with defendants. These contracts are often one-sided. Typically, defendants can fire lawyers for any reason at all. Attorneys are usually ethically bound to continue zealously representing clients, even if circumstances become difficult.
So, although you could win big and get a top-notch lawyer for free, it’s usually much too risky to roll the dice on a public assistance lawyer, even if one is available. The direct and indirect consequences of a criminal conviction are simply too high. So, break the piggy bank if you need to. Working with a private Marietta criminal defense lawyer is that important. But how do you find the right one? Here are a few ideas:
- Experience: We’ve talked about experience a lot in this blog. Most courts have unique procedural rules, and many of these rules are unwritten. You simply cannot learn these things in school. Furthermore, law school often only teaches people to think like lawyers. It usually does not teach them how to act like lawyers.
- Dedication: We mentioned dedication to individual rights as well. This dedication it what drives most Marietta criminal defense lawyers. We aren’t in it for the money, and we aren’t in it to help people. We are the dam which prevents the government from washing over individual rights. If criminal defense is just a sideline, the lawyer probably lacks this dedication.
- Accessibility: Your lawyer should have an office close to your home or workplace. Attorney-client relationships hinge on communication. Yes, telephone and virtual conferences are available. But they cannot substitute for face-to-face meetings. If you’re wondering, attorneys follow the same coronavirus health and safety protocols as everyone else.
These three things are usually apparent at the initial consultation, provided you know the right questions to ask. However, as mentioned, if you make a poor choice, you are not stuck in the relationship forever.
If your lawyer does not have a vision and a plan, it may be a good idea to find someone else. How do you know what the plan is? If your lawyer repeatedly schedules procedural hearings and your case is in a holding pattern, that could be a bad sign. But don’t jump to conclusions. Sometimes, delaying the case is the best defense. The state has the burden of proof. Every day that passes, the evidence degrades, and it gets harder to meet the burden of proof.
If you are charged with a crime, you have some choices to make. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal law attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.