Self-Representation, Public Defenders and Private Attorneys: Which Option Is Best for Your Case?


Interviewer: Let me digress a little bit, some people I’m sure say, “I was drinking. I am guilty, so I’m going to plea out and plead guilty.” I’m sure it’s a mistake because the penalties are so severe. I’m sure other people think, “Maybe I can get a public defender or defend this myself.” What are the pros and cons of trying to defend it yourself versus the public defender versus hiring a private lawyer like you?

Self-Representation

Steve: First, no matter what, I would never advise somebody, and neither would a judge, represent themselves. It’s a very bad decision. I don’t care whether somebody thinks, “I was drinking. I was caught red-handed. There’s nothing that can be done, I’m going to do it myself.” It’s a very bad decision in this day and age because the issue legally is not whether you’re probably guilty. It’s not the issue.

Quite frankly, it’s really a situation wherein no matter how guilty you think you are, it’s just not up to you to. What I’m trying to say, it’s up to the government to prove your guilt. They have to prove it evidentiary wise but beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a very high evidentiary burden.

There can be a variety of reasons that, even though you think that you drove after you were drinking, there are so many technical things that are involved in DUI that people are so surprised. That relates to the DMV proceedings as well.

My favorite story is the client who basically blew off a roadblock and crashed into a police vehicle/cruiser and had a 0.33 blood alcohol concentration. The DMV suspended his license and just based on a technicality, they had to set it aside. The same notions and principles apply to the criminal case, even more so in the criminal case than in the DMV case.

There are so many factors that need to be studied and analyzed in order to determine whether someone really is guilty. I want to make a distinction between innocent and guilty. I’m not saying that people that want to represent themselves are innocent because they may very well not be innocent, but that’s not the standard. Standard is can the government prove that person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? That’s a long answer to a very simple question. The short answer is don’t represent yourself.

Public Defenders

Public defender or private lawyer? That’s a judgment call. First of all, not everyone’s going to qualify for a public defender because if you make a certain amount of money over a particular threshold, then you won’t get the appointment. Some judges are lenient with that. They might still appoint the public defender anyway and require that the person reimburse the public defender for their representation.

Private Attorneys

My position is as long as you have to pay, and then you might as well pay for an attorney of your choice. There are so many competent, good public defenders around. They just are. A lot of them are very excellent lawyers, but you don’t have that choice. You have the particular public defender in a particular courtroom and that’s the public defender that you get and you don’t get anyone else. If you’re going to have to pay for that person then you might as well pay for someone who you want to represent you and be in control of the process. That’s how I feel about public defenders.

If you are considering hiring me as your attorney, first of all, I don’t work as a mill. I don’t work on a volume of cases. I try to operate my office more of a boutique office where I pick and choose the cases that I want. I pick and choose the clients that I want and then I work on those files very diligently and very aggressively. I involve the client in the process.

The client is in my office quite frequently. They’re on the phone with me, we communicate by email. They’re always advised of the status of their case in a timely manner. I involve them in the process. I’m not necessarily sure how their attorneys or public defenders work along those lines, but I know how I work.

In terms of making decision to hire me, I might not be the best match for someone who just doesn’t want to be involved. I really expect a person who wants to hire me, to become a client that is very involved in their case. I do have a reputation for being successful in these cases. In order to be successful in these cases I always involve the client.

Just yesterday I appeared in front of a judge in Santa Rosa, it was a very serious situation. My client had two prior DUIs. One of the judges wanted to take him into custody right away and he ended up in jail on another matter but ended up not getting charged.

It was a probation violation because he was drinking. He was on probation on two different files. It was a very serious situation, but I worked with the client. This particular client wants to give me a testimonial for my website. We worked and we worked and we strategized. At the end of the day, he was reinstated on his probation under the same terms and conditions with no adverse action taken. No violation. He admitted the violation, but he didn’t go to jail.

The reason why he didn’t go to jail is because he did everything I told him to do and he was very involved in the process. In fact, when the judge saw everything that he did, he volunteered, just said, “Mr. Taxman, would you do something for me?” “Yes. I will, Your Honor.” “Please tell your client how impressed I am with everything he’s done to take control of his life.”

That doesn’t happen all the time. It is unusual for a judge to just volunteer and ask me to tell something that’s so positive to my client. The client was delighted. That’s what I mean. I take my cases very seriously and that’s how I handle the DUI cases as well.

Interviewer: You say in general, public defenders would run more like mills because they have a tremendous caseload. They probably wouldn’t give you a lot of personal attention.

A Private Attorney Can Provide Personal Attention to Your Case

Steve: It depends, but I think as a general rule of thumb, for every ten cases they have, or 20 cases they have, I have one case. There’s a difference there. I know that there are certain public defenders that get to know their clients. I know that they schedule appointments and they run the show just like I do. However, as the general rule, they’re extremely overburdened because of the system. Even though I’m extremely busy and I still work 24/7, and I’m just as busy as they are.

I’m able to give my clients individualized attention. If somebody is charged with a criminal offense, including a DUI, individual attention what they deserve. No matter how busy the courts are, no matter how busy lawyers are, it’s really all about the people.

It’s nothing to do with the lawyers, nothing to do with the courts or the judges or the DAs. It’s about this person who stands accused of a criminal offense. I make it all about them. That’s how I handle the DUI cases as well.

Only a Private Attorney Can Represent You at Your Administrative Hearing

Interviewer: I heard that public defenders can only address the criminal side of their case, so wouldn’t that mean if someone hired a public defender, the administrative hearing, driver’s license portion won’t even be addressed?

Steve: Correct. I always encourage people to hire a private lawyer that can handle both. This is because even if a public defender wins your criminal case, you still lose because that public defender can’t get in and handle the DMV side for you as well.

It makes a lot of good, economic, business sense for a client to have a private lawyer handle the criminal case and the DMV side of it as well That is probably the best choice that the person can make.

By Steven Taxman

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