Got a DUI: Public Defender or Private Lawyer?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on February 25, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you're being charged with driving under the influence, chances are you're going to need a DUI lawyer. But, before you make a move, you're going to have to answer the following question.

Should you "hire" a public defender, or should you spend a few thousand dollars on a private lawyer?

First off, you may not be entitled to a DUI public defender. Driving under the influence is most often a state crime, and each state has its own rules about who receives free counsel. However, the general rule is that, as long as you meet financial requirements, you will be provided with an attorney if you are being charged with a felony or if you face jail time. This is often the case with a DUI.

Besides the fact that they usually come free of charge, there is another major benefit to choosing a DUI public defender. When a person is entitled to a public defender, federal and state constitutions are actually saying that a person is entitled to competent representation. Public defender offices thus try to ensure that their attorneys are competent at their jobs. A private DUI lawyer doesn't have to make that showing unless a client files a complaint.

Despite competency, a DUI public defender is likely to have a heavy case load and less access to expert opinion and technology. A private DUI lawyer, on the other hand, can utilize fees to acquire information. However, a private DUI lawyer may also have a large case load, affording you no more time than a public defender.

In the end, whether you choose to go with a private DUI lawyer or a public defender depends on finances, comfort, and the complexity of your case. If you're unsure, contact a DUI lawyer or your local public defender and see what they have to say.

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