Is a Court-Appointed Public Defender a Viable Defense Option?

Interviewer: What would be the difference between a hiring a private attorney versus a using a public defender in a drug case?

Court: Public defenders get a bad rap; they are good attorneys, they are not bad attorneys and they’re not idiots. But that being said the problem with the public defender is the public defender is swamped with cases and they just simply don’t have the time. It’s not a question of skill or legal knowledge but they simply do not have the time to take into account an individual’s circumstances.

Public Defenders Carry Heavy Caseloads and Do Not Have the Time or Resources That a Private Attorney Has

They are not able to investigate the case or do the research necessary to persuade a judge to give you a lighter sentence or to negotiate something down with the prosecutor or to prepare for trial.

They see tons of cases and it’s a triage situation; almost like the difference between an ER doctor and a specialist. If you go to the ER the ER doctor is going to stop the initial problem and keep you alive but it’s the specialist that will take the time to fix your symptoms and your long term problems. That’s the difference between a public defender and a private attorney.

If you hire somebody like me or you hire a private attorney you’re getting somebody on your side that understands your whole situation, has the time to sit and listen to what you say in your defense and to come up with a tailor-made strategy to help you out.

Are you facing drug-related charges in Salt Lake City, Utah? Read attorney Court Koehler as he describes if a public defender is a viable defense option.

Potential Penalties for Drug-Related Offenses

Interviewer: What penalties or sentences can someone face and how could you reduce them?

Court: With drug possession, depending on the drug, like we spoke about earlier, anything from a class B misdemeanor all the way up to a second degree felony if it’s possession with intent to distribute.

Initially, the Prosecutors Will Charge You at the Highest Level They Can

Many times, the prosecutors will charge you straight up at the beginning with the highest level of the crime that they can possibly have a probable cause to charge you with. It does not necessarily mean that they have a good chance of convicting you of that crime.

For example, if you have a larger amount of a drug like cocaine they will charge you with intent to distribute rather than just possession charge. One of the things you can do is get that reduced down to just possession just by talking to the prosecutor and saying, “Look, you don’t really have a clear case here with your evidence,” and if we are willing to plead guilty to a less charge, most often, they will go for that and everybody is happy.

Your Attorney Will Negotiate with the Prosecutor to Reduce the Charges

Another thing you can do is when you have a more serious drug is to get a plea bargain down to a less serious drug. If you have a possession of cocaine charge and maybe it’s a felony, we can get that knocked down to a class-A or B misdemeanor maybe through negotiations with the prosecutor.

Felony Charges Carry Prison or Jail Sentences

With the felony you’re looking at a possible prison time or at least a significant jail time. With a misdemeanor, you probably just end up with probation or if you do get jail time it will be for a much shorter time period than for a felony.

Fines are Significantly Higher with a Felony Charge

The difference in fines is significant and the difference in jail times is even more significant; when you come down from a felony to a misdemeanor you are looking at a significant difference in terms of a sentence. In either case, you’re always going to have some probation requirement, some treatment requirement that are usually going to happen no matter what drug it is.

But with the fines and the jail time there is a big difference between each grade, whether it’s a class B misdemeanor or class-A misdemeanor all the way up to a felony. If we can get the charge reduced with a plea bargain you are looking at a pretty good deal.

Interviewer: What constitutes getting jail time with a felony?

Court: A third degree felony is the lightest felony; it’s punishable by zero to five years in prison, the state prison as opposed to the jail. The difference between jails and prisons used to be prison time. In a trial, they do indeterminate sentencing so once you get sentenced the parole board decides whether or not you get released. The judge might sentence you zero to five or one to five or something like that. It’s going to be a little bit unclear exactly how much time you have to do.

A Jail Sentence Is Imposed if the Penalty Is Less Than a Year; Prison Is Imposed for Longer Incarceration

With jail you have less a sentence of less than a year so you’re looking at usually sentences will be in terms of months like six months, three months that might go all the way up to a full year in jail.

By Court Koehler

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