Q: I was arrested in Las Vegas, and I can’t afford a private attorney. Will the court appoint the public defender to represent me?
Possibly. By applying for the services of the public defender, you are representing to a court that you are indigent, meaning that you cannot afford private counsel. You will be told to fill out an application which will be provided to the judge. The court will look at your employment status, income, and expenses and decide if you qualify. If you are unemployed or on government assistance, you generally qualify for the public defender. If you do not qualify, the judge will give you time to hire a lawyer.
Many people qualify for the aid of the public defender, but still scrape the money together and attempt to hire the cheapest attorney in town. This is generally a bad idea. Keep in mind that lawyers practice our trade for a living. If an attorney is charging a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is. These are either 1) “got ya” fees that turn into the lawyer requiring more money down the road or they will drop your case, or 2) the lawyer will simply do the absolute bare minimum to fulfil his or her legal obligations to you. In the event your cheap lawyer is the latter of the two, the public defender would probably do the same or even better of a job.
When you have a case that will require a lot of work to get the best result, hiring the cheapest lawyer or using a public defender are both very bad ideas.The public defender wouldn’t do more work than a cut rate lawyer; they are simply more likely to have a better relationship with the prosecutor in their court room, and might be offered a slightly better deal to convey to you.
You cannot possibly do your best work as an attorney on a felony DUI for $500. Anybody who says they can are either overloading themselves, or not planning on doing more than the bare minimum. If that is your thought process, you should utilize the services of the public defender.