By way of disclosure, I am proud to say I was a public defender for over 20 years.
A criminal arrest and charge can throw your life into chaos and leave you with overwhelming decisions. Our Constitution protects rights we have not by virtue of them being given to us by the government, but simply because we are Americans. One of the cornerstones of the American criminal system is a person’s right to have a lawyer. The right to have a lawyer present when the whole power of the State is brought against you in the form of a criminal prosecution is the most important right a person has in a criminal case. The right to counsel is the right by which other rights like the right to present a defense and proof beyond a reasonable doubt are protected. That is why Paul Ksicinski would be honored if you chose him to fight for you in your criminal case.
The role of defense counsel is and must forever be drastically different than the attorney who appears for the prosecution. The role of a defense attorney in the criminal system was explained some years ago by United States Supreme Court Justice Byron White in the landmark case of United States vs. Wade, 388 U.S. 218 (1967):
Law enforcement officers have the obligation to convict the guilty and to make sure they do not convict the innocent. They must be dedicated to making the criminal trial a procedure for the ascertainment of the true facts surrounding the commission of the crime. To this extent, our so-called adversary system is not adversary at all; nor should it be. But defense counsel has no comparable obligation to ascertain or present the truth. Our system assigns him a different mission. He must be and is interested in preventing the conviction of the innocent, but, absent a voluntary plea of guilty, we also insist that he defend his client whether he is innocent or guilty. The State has the obligation to present the evidence. Defense counsel need present nothing, even if he knows what the truth is. He need not furnish any witnesses to the police, or reveal any confidences of his client, or furnish any other information to help the prosecution’s case. If he can confuse a witness, even a truthful one, or make him appear at a disadvantage, unsure or indecisive, that will be his normal course.
There is a special type of attorney who specializes in this type of criminal defense: a public defender. But public defenders never were intended to be for everybody. At a most basic level, a public defender is only for someone who cannot afford their own lawyer so the defendant has a lawyer appointed to them at (supposedly) public expense.
Given the economic times we live in, it is a sad comment on the number of people who are represented by public defenders. But this blessing is also a curse. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of cases or “caseload” which an individual public defender is forced to handle or face discipline by his/her office is staggering. Most public defenders are hard-working but simply cannot give a case the attention it deserves because of the 45 other cases the public defender has had to open that month. On the other hand, a private criminal defense attorney can choose how many cases they can take on, so they can give each case the attention it deserves.
That illustrates another problem you have in representation by the public defender office. The total lack of choice you have in selecting who will represent you. The public defender’s office will assign an attorney to your case, so you may be forced to settle for an attorney that you don’t get along with or one who doesn’t have the experience your case requires. Facing the consequences of a serious criminal offense, which includes penalties such as jail or prison, may not be the time to have such a limited choice. You have more control in selecting what clothes or shoes you will wear than you have in selecting what public defender is going to represent you on a case where you can go to prison or jail. That is why you should never underestimate the importance of being able to choose an experienced professional attorney, Paul Ksicinski.
Importantly, public defenders unfairly are said to not care about their clients because they are not real attorneys or “public pretenders.” Bluntly, that is the biggest load of crap I have ever heard. Again, most public defenders are hard-working dedicated attorneys. However, the ability of a public defender to show he/she cares about you and your case is a function of his/her available time given the staggering caseload imposed upon them. Trust me, public defender’s care. But the volume of their cases force many of public defenders to discuss the justice their client will get in the hallway in the courthouse.
One major consequence of current public employment in the State of Wisconsin is that many experienced professionals have been forced out of State service. The public is told this is good because it saves money. This simply is not true. Experienced public defenders –and prosecutors – know what cases must go to trial and what cases can be resolved by a plea bargain. Unfortunately, this tax saving economy of experience has been lost in Wisconsin because many experienced professionals are being forced out of public service or into retirement. For the individual defendant, the consequence is not to have a public defender representing them who is as battle tested as a private attorney who can work out the best deal possible deal for their client.
Some people believe getting a public defender is free in Wisconsin. Many times it is not. The Office of the State Public Defender may determine someone is not poor enough to be appointed a public defender for free. After a case is over, the Office of the Public Defender may charge a person for that representation. Sometimes, the Office of the Public Defender has even sued people to get their fee for the appointed attorney. So please realize, you may have to pay for that attorney that has been appointed to you by the Office of the Public Defender. Of course, private attorneys charge for their services. But some private attorneys will negotiate their fees. Some even have sliding scales based on your ability to pay. Some private attorneys charge a fixed fee, others charge an hourly rate. However, like most things in life, you get what you pay for. If you can’t afford an experienced and skilled private attorney, then having a public defenders is much better than going on your own. Moreover, I worry about low cost private attorneys because they don’t seem to charge enough to provide a high level of service.
The bottom line is it takes both skill and time to get a great deal for client or set something up for a successful trial. For your criminal case, private attorney v. public defender is a choice you must make. Just remember defendants get what they pay for and sometimes “free” may be too high a price to pay. Paul Ksicinski will use his over 25 years of skills and experience to see that you avoid conviction and keep your charges from affecting all areas of your life if there is any way possible