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Should I Use A Public Defender or Hire A Private Attorney?

When charged with a crime in Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of the first questions you may have is: “Should I use a public defender or hire a private attorney?” Ultimately, the choice between a public defender and a private attorney depends on factors like your financial situation, criminal charges, and personal preferences.

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What Are the Benefits of a Public Defender vs. a Private Attorney?

You have two options for legal representation in the criminal justice system. These options include using the public defender (your court-appointed legal counsel) and hiring a private attorney.

Public defenders are court-appointed legal counsel for those who cannot afford private representation. Public defenders can advocate for the best interests of their incarcerated clients and help them navigate the criminal justice system.

Since public defenders have a larger caseload, they are less likely to dedicate more time and attention to your case. A private attorney, on the other hand, can spend more time on your case and build a customized legal strategy tailored to your situation.

What Are the Roles and Responsibilities of Public Defenders?

Public defenders help uphold justice and ensure everyone has a voice in the legal system, no matter their financial situation. They act as your lawyer, just like a private attorney. You can count on their advice to understand your rights, the charges against you, and what to expect from the Minnesota criminal justice system.

Though a public defender may not do it with the depth and precision of a private lawyer, he or she can gather evidence, interview witnesses, and explore possible defenses. He or she will negotiate with the prosecution to seek favorable plea bargains, reduced charges, or even case dismissal.

Public defenders also represent defendants in court. They argue cases before the judge and jury, ensuring their clients’ voices are heard loud and clear. They also ensure the proceedings follow all the rules and that defendants’ rights aren’t violated.

A court-appointed attorney will also be able to break down confusing legal jargon so that you can understand what’s happening. The public defender can answer your questions, address your concerns, and offer guidance and support. Other roles and responsibilities of this court-assigned representative include:

  • Connecting you with resources like social services, support groups, or other assistance you might need
  • Ensuring you have a fair chance at defending yourself, regardless of your financial resources
  • Fighting for your rights and defending your innocence
  • Ensuring the legal process is followed correctly

If you face legal challenges without the means for private counsel, you can count on a public defender for legal representation.

Are There Any Benefits to Using a Public Defender?

Public defenders offer several key benefits for those facing legal challenges without the means to hire a private attorney.

They Ensure Equal Access to Justice

Since public defenders are court appointed, they eliminate the cost barrier that can prevent many people from accessing legal services. Therefore, they ensure equal access to justice, which is a fundamental principle of the legal system.

They Are familiar with the Criminal Justice System

A public defender will often handle a high volume of cases. Such experience allows this legal professional to gain extensive experience navigating the courtroom and legal procedures.

They Are Passionate About Upholding Justice

Public defenders bring dedication and a strong commitment to ensuring everyone receives representation and due process. These legal representatives don’t discriminate against clients based on financial backgrounds.

They Have Meaningful, Professional Connections With Key Players in the Legal System

Their relationships with judges, prosecutors, and other court personnel within their jurisdiction can benefit your case. It comes in handy when negotiating plea bargains and seeking alternatives to incarceration. The relationships can also help public defenders navigate local court dynamics.

While caseloads can be high, public defenders are committed to each client’s case. So, expect them to guide you through the legal process.

They Offer Professional Legal Advice

You can also turn to public defenders for answers to questions like “What are the charges for assault in Minnesota?” and advice on any aspect of your case.

They Have Access to Essential Resources

Although resources might be limited compared to private attorneys, public defenders can still access essential tools for your case. These resources could include court documents, expert witnesses, and legal research platforms. Public defenders can also give you social services referrals if needed.

Reasons to Hire a Private Attorney in Minnesota

If you are considering hiring a private attorney for your criminal case, you may ask, “What does a criminal defense attorney do?” You can count on a defense attorney to do the following for you:

Customized Legal Strategy Tailored to Your Case

A private attorney in Minnesota can give you the personalized approach you need to win your criminal case. Public defenders often handle numerous cases simultaneously. As such, they may have less time to analyze each case to gain a deeper understanding.

A private attorney, however, can invest time in understanding all aspects of your case. The attorney will review the details, interview witnesses, and gather evidence. As such, the lawyer can build a strong defense that strengthens your position.

Generic approaches rarely work in the courtroom. A private attorney will analyze your situation and craft a personalized strategy that leverages your strengths and addresses your weaknesses.

The process could involve exploring creative arguments, identifying relevant legal precedents, or negotiating settlements. While public defenders handle diverse cases, they might not have specialized knowledge in your area. Private attorneys often focus on specific practice areas, which allow them to gain an in-depth understanding of the relevant laws, judges, and procedures.

Public defenders are sometimes restricted by limited resources and government control (bureaucratic measures). They may not have flexibility to access additional resources like investigators, expert witnesses, or specialized technology like private attorneys. Since a private lawyer may have these resources, he or she can build a robust case and explore every possible avenue.

With a high caseload, public defenders might not always be readily available for your questions or concerns. A private attorney, on the other hand, is invested in your case and readily accessible. You can expect regular updates, open communication, and a willingness to address your anxieties and concerns throughout the process.

More Time and Attention Devoted to Your Defense

When facing criminal charges in Minnesota, you need an attorney who is devoted to your defense. That involves hiring a criminal defense lawyer who can fully dedicate himself or herself to your case. A private attorney can make a big difference, compared to a public defender, due to the increased time and attention he or she can offer your defense.

Due to their high caseload, public defenders might only have time for a few meetings with you. They may not research more into the case or your charges. Consequently, this may lead to missed opportunities and weaker arguments. A private attorney spends more time getting to know you and your case, so he or she can understand the unique details and gather evidence.

Private lawyers dig deeper into witness statements and analyze police reports. They might even hire investigators to uncover new evidence to help build your case. With more time and resources, they can push for better plea bargains, reduced charges, or dismissal of the case altogether.

You need a lawyer accessible for questions, updates, and concerns. He or she should provide valuable support and guidance throughout the process. For this reason, a private attorney is the most suitable choice over a public defender.

A lawyer who can devote full attention to your defense can be invaluable. His or her help can be beneficial in various legal situations. Here are some specific examples of how this can play out in Minnesota:

  • DWI case: A private attorney can analyze breathalyzer results, challenge police procedures, and even hire a toxicologist to dispute the evidence
  • Theft charges: With more time dedicated to investigations, your lawyer might uncover witness inconsistencies or alibi evidence that could challenge the prosecution’s case
  • Sexual assault charges: A private attorney can dedicate time to understand more about what happened, and negotiate a fair and favorable plea deal, protecting your rights and interests

While cost can be a factor, the potential benefits of having a lawyer who can fully invest in your defense can be priceless. When you hire a private attorney, you are not just investing in a lawyer. You are investing in your legal defense and freedom.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between a Public Defender and a Private Attorney

Choose the right lawyer for your unique situation when facing criminal charges. Consider the following factors to make an informed decision:


It usually costs nothing to have a public defender on your criminal case. The government covers most or all of your legal fees when you choose this option. However, you must meet income and resource guidelines to be eligible for a court-appointed lawyer.

On the other hand, hiring a private attorney can be cost-intensive. Fees vary depending on experience, unique case details, and location. Some lawyers even offer flexible payment plans to ease the cost burden.


Public defenders often handle many cases simultaneously, since they represent many defendants who cannot afford private attorneys. The huge caseload can limit the time they can dedicate to each client. Building a strong relationship and personalized attention might be challenging. Private lawyers often handle fewer cases. They can dedicate more time and resources to investigate your case and negotiate on your behalf.


The experience levels of public defenders vary. Some are experienced lawyers, while others might be recent graduates. You don’t usually have control over who gets assigned to your case.

Hiring a private attorney allows you to research and choose based on an attorney’s specific experience and skills in handling similar cases. Level of experience can be important for complex cases. You can narrow your search for a lawyer to specific certifications for different legal situations.


Though the government pays public defenders, it dedicates limited resources to these legal professionals. As such, your public defender will only handle cost-effective aspects of your case. He or she may not be able to hire additional experts, investigators, or other professionals to assist with your case.

Private attorneys might have access to more resources. They are more likely to afford to pay investigators and expert witnesses when building your case. Private lawyers also use the latest technology to ensure that your rights are protected.


Due to their busy schedules, it might be hard to reach public defenders, especially when you want to get prompt updates on your case. You will have to work on a schedule they provide, which depends on their current caseload.

Private attorneys usually focus more on communicating and offering personalized attention. They do this to maintain their reputation and rapport with the client.

Personal Choice

If you can’t afford a lawyer, you will have no control over who you are assigned. The court randomly assigns public defenders to criminal cases. It won’t allow you to participate in the selection or vetting process.

But if you can afford a private attorney, you can choose one you feel comfortable with and believe can represent you effectively. Your choice will also be based on the trust and rapport built at the initial consultation meeting.

Do You Need to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney?

If you’ve been charged with a crime, and you’re wondering, “Should I use a public defender, or hire a private attorney?” call Keller Criminal Defense Attorneys at (952) 913-1421. We’ll discuss your case, talk about the evidence against you, and evaluate your options. 

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

Stay calm and compose after getting accused of a crime but not charged in Minneapolis, MN. Do not discuss the facts of your case with anyone, including your relatives and family members. Hire a criminal defense attorney with a demonstrated record of winning cases like yours. Your attorney will discuss your rights, guide you on how to cooperate with law enforcement within the legal boundaries, and build a solid defense strategy to fight the charges you could face in the future.
Expungement and sealing of records in Minnesota affect how your criminal history appears to government agencies and the public. The main difference between the two legal actions is that expungement permanently removes past arrests, criminal charges, or convictions from private and public databases, while sealing hides the criminal record from the public. Courts, government entities, and law enforcement agencies can access sealed criminal records.
Minnesota recently passed a public safety bill that brings sweeping changes to the state’s juvenile justice system. While minors sometimes run afoul of the law, the juvenile justice system seeks to account for the differences between children and adults. Therefore, while the penalties for adults convicted of crimes focus on punishment, those for juveniles are aimed at diversion and restorative practices.