Before giving you a comparison between these two types of representation, let me say that both of these types of criminal representation are needed and have their place in the criminal justice system. In order to fully understand the difference, you must know the history of the criminal defense system in the State of Alabama. As you are already fully aware if you have ever watched any legal show on television, when a person is in custody and being interrogated, they have a legal right to have their “Miranda” rights read to them. These rights tell arrested persons that “they have a right to an attorney and if they cannot afford one that one will be appointed to them.”
Due to the Supreme Court of the United States decision in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), each State in the United States must have a way to offer representation to indigent defendants or defendant’s who cannot afford one for themselves. In our State, most counties appoint members of the local bar association who ask to be put on the list to those individuals who cannot afford an attorney after the Court takes an affidavit and determines that the individual is actually indigent. However, these indigency forms are only as accurate as the individual giving the information and no further investigation is done because of the man power and expense. Your tax dollars then pay for representation for those qualifying as indigent.
Attorneys are like any other job in this country. There are some really good ones out there and there are some really bad ones. If you are in a County where they appoint, you will just be subject to luck of the draw. The State pays lawyers $40 an hour for out of Court time and $60 an hour for time in Court. This was recently raised because attorneys were having trouble making a living and paying overhead on the old rate.
There are two counties that have Public Defender Systems in place and they are Tuscaloosa County and Shelby County. Barry and I both have friends that work in the Public Defender’s office in both counties and they are very good lawyers and do a service for our community. However, they will tell you themselves, especially with the current economy, they are absolutely overworked. They do not see their clients until their court date and 98 percent or more cases are plead out and not tried. This is due to the number of cases they have to work. In Shelby County, our system has actually gone to reading people their rights in groups and explaining the criminal process as a group because it is more time efficient.
When we work a case up for trial, we have investigators that work with us on cases, make individual trial and research notebooks for each case, work endless hours on interviewing witnesses and preparing visual aids, if applicable, visit the client’s home or crimes scene to take photos, file on average at least ten Motions in Limine in an effort to avoid the State from presenting evidence in the trial but some cases we have filed seventeen plus and much more. We work each case up like it is going to trial because that is the way to be effective in this practice. We give out our emails and cell phone numbers and visit our jail clients regularly. The lawyers that work in the Public Defender’s office cannot do this type of work because they do not have the time, money or man power. They do good to handle the cases in Court much less have time for outside work. The justice system is not a fair system and you get what you pay for like anything else in our Country. The legal justice system is not absent from the pros and cons of democracy.