Public Defender vs Criminal Defense Atty for hire?

DETAILS

My spouse is awaiting a bond hearing for sexual assault. He paid an atty. $5000 a year ago – by the sales pitch of how hard they would work to resolve the case before charges were filed. The atty made a few calls and told us to wait it out. He was indicted. Same atty. took another $4000 and asked for $25,000 to take the case to trial. This atty did not even know that he was arraigned, did not know that he was charged with one charge only and does not intend to see the client prior to the hearing. (8 weeks away) My gut is telling me that this is the kind of atty. that reacts instead of aggressively seeking to clear the client. We are facing bankruptcy, foreclosure and loss of career / freedom over this. Are we better off taking our chances with a public defender? – scared and broke

ANSWER

This is a very serious case, as you know, and could potentially carry with it a life sentence (depending on the severity of the charge), mandatory sex offender registration, and extreme collateral consequences of being tagged a “sex offender”.

That said, I am not sure to what extent the private lawyer worked on your case. It is best to get an attorney involved early and it seems like you did that. Was this worth $5000, I don’t know. At times, no amount of money can affect the prosecutor’s decision to file charges. It doesn’t mean the attorney didn’t do his job. Some things are inevitable. If you feel that the first attorney did not provide proper services for the amount of money you paid him/her, it seems illogical that you would pay this same attorney another $4000.

It seems that, at some level, you were satisfied with his/her work at first. With respect to what is happening now, I can not imagine an attorney not knowing about the arraignment or the charge. I would bet the attorney is aware that your spouse was charged and arraigned — especially since you had the same lawyer involved pre-indictment. If you are dissatisfied at this point, I would contact the attorney and try to work something out with respect to the fees. Also, ask the attorney about his apparent lack of attention to the case. Maybe he is doing something but hasn’t notified your husband yet?

Based on your question, and your gut reaction, you want to have a conversation with your spouse (since, after all, he is the client and his liberty is at stake). How does he feel about this attorney? Does he want to proceed with this person?

At the end of the day, if you do not have $25,000 to pay the attorney’s fees for a trial, the attorney will negotiate the case and urge a plea bargain. You will then be left with the decision of whether to take the deal or go to trial with the public defender. If you know in advance this case is bound for trial, you may as well see if you qualify for the PD. There are income requirements and you may not even qualify. But, if you do, at least you have another option to explore.