Should I Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney?

If you are facing criminal charges, you may be looking at your bills and wondering if you can afford an attorney or if it’s worth hiring one.  A criminal conviction can come with a heavy financial impact, which can include fines imposed by the court, fees for counseling or treatment, the burden of lost wages if jail time is involved, and higher auto insurance costs if the offense was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  This article cites studies and surveys for the proposition that

  • Attorney vs. Self-Representation – In a famous case, Gideon v. Wainwright, Justice Black reasoned:  “fair trials before impartial tribunals  in which ever defendant stands equal before the law . . . cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.”  This quote emphasizes the importance of an attorney in a criminal case.

Survey Responses Show Better Outcomes with an Attorney than Pro Se

  • Respondents in a survey published at the site below indicated a high DUI conviction rate for defendants who represented themselves.  See
  • Private Attorneys vs. Public Defenders – If you at an income level to qualify for a public defender, but you have family or others who are willing to contribute to you defense, you may be wondering if a private attorney would be more effective in representing you.  According to at least a few studies, the answer to that question is yes, private attorneys — statistically speaking – obtain much better outcomes for their clients than public defenders.  

Studies Show Better Outcomes with Private Attorneys

  • Results indicate that defendants with public defenders are more likely to be detained pretrial, more likely to be convicted, and less likely to have their cases dismissed.”  

(Excerpt from a study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice, a summary of which can be found here,

  • …studies suggest that having appointed counsel negatively affects case outcomes, such as conviction and sentencing, in that those with appointed counsel are more likely to be convicted and/or sentenced to longer incarceration terms.”

(Excerpt from a study about the effect of attorney type on bail hearings, which can be found at

  • Other Considerations –There are many other considerations that you will need to weigh to decide whether to hire an attorney, whether to request a public defender, or whether to represent yourself.  A safe approach to take is to at least consult with an attorney initially, and then to decide the best course of action from there.  Some factors you might consider include:
  • How serious is the offense?
  • Am I innocent?
  • Would I prefer to go to trial, or would I be more comfortable with a plea deal?
  • What will be the financial burden of a guilty plea or conviction?
  • What resources, side income, or family to help defray the cost of an attorney?

The decision about whether to seek representation is a very important one, and your selection of an attorney is also critical to your success, and this resource can help you think through some of the initial steps of preparing your criminal defense.