Do I need to hire a lawyer or is a court-appointed lawyer good enough?

My 18 year old girlfriend has a court date on monday the 15th regarding a petty theft charge. This is a first time offense, and the amount of property stolen was approximately $150. Does she need to hire a lawyer to represent her to get the charge lowered to an infraction? Is the court appointed attorney adequate? Or can she represent herself and have equal results? We are having a tough time deciding whether to fork out the $1500 to hire a lawyer or just let the court give us one. Thank you so much for your help.

Asked on June 11, 2009 under Criminal Law, California


M.S., Member, Connecticut Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Any time anyone is accused of a crime, it is important to have reliable legal representation.  With respect to your specific question, it is important to remember that court appointed lawyers, otherwise referred to as public defenders, are attorneys whose practice is solely devoted to the practice of criminal defense.  Although public defenders often get a bad reputation, often times they are just as competent, or in many cases more competent, than private attorneys who only devote a fraction of their practice to criminal defense.  This is especially true with "bargain attorneys" -- attorneys who charge less due to their relative inexperience.  Unless you are going to hire one of the best criminal defense attorneys, you are not generally guaranteed better representation just because you paid your attorney rather than having one appointed by the state.  That being said, you should go with your instincts, and she should not rely on an attorney she does not trust.  Moreover, under no circumstances should she try to represent herself -- hence the old phrase, the attorney who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer.

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