Retained vs. Court-Appointed Defense Attorney

No one budgets for the expense of a retained criminal defense attorney. In virtually every case, a criminal charge is a total surprise. Is it worth finding the money necessary to hire a top criminal defense lawyer?

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A conviction can be life-changing. What type of lawyer can provide outstanding defense and protection?

People facing felony and misdemeanor prosecution must decide whether to hire a retained criminal defense attorney or settle with a court-appointed attorney. Hiring a retained lawyer is expensive, and, in many cases, proceeding with an appointed lawyer (at public expense) seems like an attractive alternative.

Before a person decides that an appointed attorney would be adequate to protect their liberty, reputation, criminal history, employability, family, etc., they should consider the findings of The Indigent Defense Advisory Commission. Governor Rick Snyder empowered the Commission to complete the most comprehensive analysis of the defense of indigent persons in Michigan (AKA representation by Court Appointed Attorneys). The report is dated June 22, 2012. It is possible to find a fair, affordable, retained criminal defense lawyer to protect and defend you on felony and misdemeanor charges.

Unsurprisingly, the Commission has found that indigent defendants represented by court-appointed Michigan criminal defense lawyers generally receive inadequate and constitutionally deficient defense. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and some court-appointed lawyers practice at a very high standard and demonstrate tremendous dedication and loyalty to their clients. On the other hand, a great many do not.

  • None of the trial-level indigent defense systems analyzed by the Commission in Michigan counties met minimum standards.
  • Many indigent defense systems and court-appointed Michigan criminal defense attorneys were not independent of the judiciary, had an excessive caseload, inadequate training and education, and inadequate experience handling complex cases.
  • Michigan ranks 44th out of 50 states regarding insufficient funding for court-appointed lawyers.
  • Michigan’s current system of providing legal representation for indigent criminal defendants lacks procedural safeguards to ensure adequate public criminal defense services.

According to the State of Michigan’s State Appellate Defender Office in April 2018:

Our criminal justice system relies on zealous defenders and independent pretrial investigations to ensure just results. Yet, the reality is that the public-defense delivery systems — nationally and in Michigan — are inadequate and underfunded. Court-appointed trial attorneys carry excessive caseloads and lack the time and funding to investigate cases. One result of this breakdown in the adversarial system is the wrongful conviction of innocent people.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does retained counsel mean?

“Retained counsel” means a privately hired lawyer paid for directly by the defendant or someone on the defendant’s behalf. Some lawyers handle both retained and appointed cases. Suppose a lawyer maintains a practice that is exclusively retained. In that case, they likely have extensive experience, are highly respected among prior clients and other lawyers, and have built strong connections in their community. Many people wonder about the value and effectiveness of retained vs. court-appointed counsel.

What is another name for a court-appointed lawyer?

Another name for a court-appointed lawyer is a public defender.

What does it mean when an attorney is appointed to you?

If an attorney is “appointed to you,” the court has assigned a lawyer to your case, and they will handle your representation through the conclusion of your case. In some courts, a different lawyer is appointed each time your case is scheduled for a hearing. A system that appoints multiple lawyers to one person’s case is flawed and assures that the defendant will not receive adequate representation, guidance, and communication. If you hire a retained, respected criminal defense attorney, you ensure that you have one lawyer or one law firm representing you from start to finish.

What is the difference between a prosecutor and a defender?

A prosecutor represents the government and charges and prosecutes the defendant. A defender or defense lawyer protects and defends their client against prosecution. The defense lawyer’s job is to zealously advocate for the dismissal or reduction in charges and a favorable sentence if there is a conviction.

What is an advantage of a public defender?

The only advantage to a public defender is that someone without the funds necessary to retain counsel can get a basic legal representation with a deferred cost. Most courts order the defendant to reimburse the court for their court-appointed lawyer’s cost at the case’s conclusion.

What is the benefit of having a lawyer on retainer?

Having a lawyer on retainer is beneficial if you are accused of a crime, and there is an ongoing criminal investigation. By having a retained lawyer hired on a pre-charge basis, your lawyer can arrange for you to surrender without an arrest, protect you from police interrogation, advise you on what measures you can take to protect yourself, recommend strategies for mitigation, and more.

What does it mean to have a lawyer retained?

You retain a lawyer by paying an agreed-upon retainer or engagement fee. If you’ve retained a lawyer, that person is responsible for your representation unless they are released for your representation by a court order.

What should I look for when retaining a lawyer?

You will want to know (1) if the firm specializes in criminal defense, (2) how many years of experience the retained criminal defense attorney has, (3) if they have sufficient resources to handle your case, (4) if they have a policy of communicating important information about your case, and (5) you want to be comfortable and confident with their commitment to protect and defend you.

Is having a retained defense lawyer in federal court just as essential?

The stakes are high in any prosecution; however, the exposure to lengthy prison time is highest in federal court. Unlike state cases, there is no expungement of federal convictions. Once someone is convicted of a federal felony in the United States District Court, they are a convicted felon for life and never retain many civil liberties, such as firearm rights.

Can I get a new court-appointed attorney?

You cannot fire a court-appointed attorney in Michigan. The only way to replace a public defender is to request a new lawyer from the judge or retain private counsel. A judge might agree to appoint a new lawyer under limited circumstances. The only way to guarantee a lawyer of your choice is to hire one privately.

What is the primary advantage of a retained lawyer over a public defender?

The primary advantage of a retained criminal defense lawyer over a public defender is the level of attention and dedication they can provide to a case. Public defenders often have heavy caseloads and limited resources, which can result in a lack of individualized attention and care for each case. In contrast, a retained lawyer has a smaller caseload and more resources for each client. Dedicating more resources means they can spend more time investigating the facts, researching legal strategies, and developing a personalized defense strategy tailored to their client’s needs.

Additionally, a retained criminal defense lawyer can often provide a higher level of expertise and specialized knowledge in a particular area of law. Retained lawyers can focus their practice on criminal law, unlike multi-practice lawyers. Criminal cases include drug offenses, white-collar crimes, DUI/OWI, retail fraud, and other cases in state or federal court. This specialization allows them to develop a deeper understanding of the law and build relationships with key players in the criminal justice system, such as prosecutors and judges. A criminal defense specialty can be particularly beneficial in complex cases where specialized knowledge and experience are necessary to mount a successful defense. Ultimately, while public defenders provide a vital service to those who cannot afford to hire their legal representation, a retained criminal defense lawyer offers the best chance for a successful defense in many cases.

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Hire a Top, Experienced, Retained Criminal Defense Attorney

The bottom line is that if you can afford an experienced, privately retained Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney, who is not handicapped by an over-burdensome caseload, it should be evident that this would be in your best interests to retain one. This is in no way to be construed as a disparagement of the dedication or abilities of public defenders.

A privately retained, affordable, and experienced defense attorney will have more time and, in many cases, more resources to spend on your case, which can be crucial in the outcome for you, the client. If you call LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. for a free consultation and confidential case evaluation, we will take the time to speak with you, answer your questions, and address each of your concerns. Together, we will find a way to help you and develop a winning strategy.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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