The rantings of a Public Defender constantly fighting against society's pervasive Police Industrial Complex. Enjoy the unique perspective of one whose life's work is to fight the system through the system.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Writer Taint makes a very important point that I failed to address on the differences between hiring a PD and a private lawyer, something I'd be remiss not to address in a formal post rather than a private response. He noted that there are things that private lawyers do that PDs don't frequently do. And he is right

When I said that PDs were frequently the best lawyers in the courthouse, I spoke regarding their raw trial and legal skills, but specifically, how they work after they get a case (meaning, after a defendant has been filed on). I also referred only to our criminal law skills, but frequently there are civil and immigration ramifications that can even outstrip the potential criminal penalties for an offense. Private lawyers have the edge on us in these respects, and I am more than willing to admit it (there are probably other crossover areas where private lawyers are better lawyers than PDs, by not mentioning them, it doesn't mean I feel that they don't exist).

There is a lot of legal work that can be done on a case prior to filing, things that PDs never deal with. Frequently, working with the DA and detective on a case can prevent a filing at all, which obviously would be the best thing one could hope for in a case. Because we get cases only after they have been filed (and cases take on a life of their own once filed), we never really have the ability to do work like that, and one would be well advised to get a private lawyer before filing if there is a chance to avoid a filing.

Even when a case is filed, there may be things that can be done to advance the cause of the defense that PDs can't do. For instance, in Drunk Driving cases (or Dueces, as we call them), there exists a mechanism to get someone back their license even though the DMV has an automatic suspension that goes into effect. This is called a DMV hearing, but PDs don't do those because they are civil, not criminal proceedings, and we are only allowed to handle criminal matters. However, a civil lawyer can and frequently does handle those matters, and not only can they get someone their license back, but frequently they find out valuable information for trial that PDs would have.

Restitution is another area where we do not have the same qualifications as civil lawyers. PDs are frequently anxious to avoid jail for a client so they are happy to stipulate to restitution as a civil judgment, which could have long-term ramifications for a defendant long after their case and probation are over. However, since we don't ever handle that area, it is an area we know little about.

There are other civil criminal cross-over areas that as PDs, and having a narrow focus (only criminal law), we do not have the expertise that civil lawyers have and may not be as well suited to handle the work as those lawyers are.

Thank you Taint for pointing out something so obvious that I missed it. I certainly don't want to create the impression that I think of PDs as supermen - we're not. We are great criminal lawyers, but as with anyone who specializes in any narrow area of expertise, other areas sometimes go lacking, and other lawyers are better suited for those areas. If you have a criminal matter that must go to trial and you want a tough, hard fighting, skilled, and intelligent lawyer, my money's still on a PD, though.

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