Interviewer: Let me ask about the difference between being your own counsel, being appointed a public defender or retaining an attorney. What would you say is the good and bad of trying to defend yourself, getting a public defender, or hiring a private lawyer?
Freddy: Here are the pros and cons. If you defend yourself, you are usually going to lose most of the time. You are not going to understand the system or the laws. The goal of the prosecution is to prosecute you, to make sure they put you in jail or convict you of that DUI, and it’s going to cost you the most. If you go to court, without any legal representation, you may end up paying the highest fines and fees that can be imposed by the law.
In order to be appointed a public defender, you have to qualify for a public defender. Most people think they have a right to a public to a defender. You have a right to a public defender only if you qualify.
In South Carolina, that means that your income level has to be extremely low, almost close to the poverty line, for you to qualify for a public defender. Then, you have to pay the public defenders fee which can be anywhere from $15.00 to $100.00 depending upon the county in order to apply for the public defender.
Then the public defender has to make an appointment to see you. Typically, they will see you maybe three, four, or five weeks later, which by that time you have lost most of your rights.
You have foregone your 10-day right to a preliminary hearing and your 30-day right to challenge the stop at an Administrative Hearing. You are really not going to get the best service that way and most public defenders shy away from DUI cases.
Hiring a Private Attorney
The last option is for you to retain a private defense attorney. That’s a good idea, because a private defense attorney is like going to your favorite medical doctor. When you see your doctor, they are going to charge you. They’re going to make sure they are going to take care of your needs, address what your problems are and give you the answer that is going to help you and send you out the door.
A public defender is like going to the free clinic. You may wait all day. You may or may not get seen. They may give you two Tylenol and send you home. If you want the best possible results, you are going to need a private defense attorney. Generally, if you hire a private defense attorney to represent you, the cost that you have to pay for a defense attorney can be 1/5 to 1/3 of what it would cost if you went to court without any representation, were convicted and had to pay the full fines and penalties..
By Freddy Woods