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Mar. 6 2024

Public Defenders vs Private Criminal Defense Lawyers in Chicago

Posted By: azhari dev

In Illinois, as in many states, individuals charged with a crime have the constitutional right to legal representation. This representation can be provided through public defenders—who are employed by the state and offer their services for free or at a reduced rate to those who cannot afford private counsel—or through private criminal defense lawyers, who are paid by their clients and often bring a different set of resources and expertise to their practice.

Illinois has a system of public defense provided through the Office of the State Appellate Defender and local public defender’s offices in counties across the state. These offices ensure that an individual’s financial limitations do not compromise the right to a fair trial. Conversely, private defense lawyers in Chicago and throughout Illinois operate independently or in firms, offering a wide range of defense strategies tailored to the unique needs of their clients.

Understanding the differences between public defenders and private defense lawyers is critical for anyone facing criminal charges in Illinois. Each option has its own advantages and limitations that can significantly impact a case’s outcome.

Who are Public Defense Attorneys?

Public defense attorneys, more commonly known as public defenders, are licensed lawyers whose primary role is to provide legal representation to individuals who are accused of crimes and cannot afford to hire a private attorney. Funded by government sources, public defenders are essential in the justice system, ensuring that the constitutional right to a fair trial and legal representation is accessible to all, regardless of financial status.

Public defenders handle all types of criminal cases, from minor misdemeanors to serious felonies, and work at various levels, including juvenile, state, and federal courts. They advocate for their clients in court, negotiate plea deals, and provide legal advice during the criminal process. Moreover, they play a critical role in safeguarding the legal rights of the accused by challenging any procedural errors and ensuring that the prosecution meets its burden of proof.

Criteria for Eligibility for a Public Defense Attorney in Chicago and Illinois

In Illinois, the eligibility for a public defender is primarily based on the defendant’s financial situation. During the initial court appearance, the judge will typically ask the defendant if they can afford an attorney. If the defendant claims financial inability, the court may require the completion of a financial affidavit that details income, assets, and liabilities.

The court decides whether someone is indigent, meaning they don’t have enough income to hire a private attorney. If deemed indigent, the court will appoint a public defender. It’s important to note that while services are generally provided at no cost, some courts might impose a nominal fee after the case concludes, depending on the defendant’s financial circumstances.

Benefits and Challenges of Working with a Public Defender


  1. Cost-Effective: Public defenders provide an invaluable service at minimal to no cost for defendants who cannot afford private representation.
  2. Experienced Advocates: Public defenders often have substantial experience dealing with various criminal cases, including complex litigation.
  3. Commitment to Justice: Public defenders are typically driven by a strong commitment to justice and equality, striving to ensure the best possible defense for all clients.


  1. High Caseloads: One of the most significant challenges facing public defenders is their generally high caseloads, which can impede their ability to spend as much time on each case as might be ideal.
  2. Limited Resources: Public defenders may have different access to resources than private attorneys, including specialized experts or additional investigative resources.
  3. Potential for Less Personalized Attention: Due to the number of cases they must handle, public defenders may only sometimes be able to offer the same level of personalized attention and client interaction as a private lawyer.

Who are Private Chicago Criminal Defense Lawyers?

Private criminal defense lawyers are licensed legal professionals who operate independently or within law firms and are hired directly by clients. Unlike public defenders, the court does not appoint private attorneys; the clients pay for their services. In Chicago, as in other cities, these attorneys represent individuals charged with criminal offenses, ranging from minor misdemeanors to serious felonies, and work to protect their clients’ legal rights and interests.

The primary role of a private defense attorney is to provide legal counsel, develop a strategic defense, negotiate with prosecutors, and represent the client in court. They handle all aspects of a criminal case, from pre-trial and bail bond hearings to trial, sentencing, and even appeals if necessary.

The Range of Services Typically Offered by Private Lawyers in Criminal Defense

Private criminal defense lawyers offer a comprehensive array of services to ensure a thorough and vigorous defense, including:

  • Case Evaluation: Assessing the charges and evidence to advise clients on the best action.
  • Investigation: Gathering and analyzing evidence, interviewing witnesses, and working with forensic experts to build a strong defense.
  • Plea Bargaining: Negotiating with prosecutors to reduce charges or penalties where possible.
  • Trial Representation: Representing the client in court, presenting evidence, and arguing on behalf of the client.
  • Appeal Processes: Handling appeals and seeking to overturn convictions if there are grounds for appeal.

Benefits of Hiring a Private Lawyer

Opting for a private criminal defense lawyer in Chicago offers several distinct advantages:

  1. Personalized Attention: Private attorneys typically manage fewer cases than public defenders, allowing them to devote more time and personalized attention to each client.
  2. Resource Availability: Private lawyers often have access to a network of professional resources, including private investigators, forensic experts, and medical professionals, which can be pivotal in formulating a strong defense.
  3. Specialized Expertise: Many private defense attorneys specialize in specific areas of criminal law, which can be highly beneficial, particularly in complex cases involving nuanced legal issues.
  4. Client-Attorney Relationship: Clients choose their attorney, which can lead to a more comfortable and collaborative working relationship, fostering open communication and trust.
  5. Proactive Defense: With more resources and time to dedicate to each case, private attorneys can often be more proactive in defense strategies, working to reduce charges before a case goes to trial.

Comparative Analysis: Public Defense Attorneys vs. Private Defense Lawyers

Caseload and Availability

Public Defenders

Public defenders often manage a high caseload due to the sheer volume of defendants requiring legal assistance who cannot afford private representation. This heavy caseload can significantly impact their availability and the amount of time they can dedicate to each case. With many cases to handle simultaneously, public defenders must divide their attention, potentially reducing time spent on each client’s specific needs.

Private Attorneys

In contrast, private defense lawyers typically handle fewer cases at a time, allowing them to devote more resources and attention to each client. This lower caseload enhances their availability for consultations, case preparation, and court appearances. The ability to focus more intensely on a smaller number of cases often results in a more thorough and proactive legal defense.

Personalized Attention

Public Defenders

The high caseloads that public defenders carry generally force them to adopt a more standardized approach to cases. They are highly skilled and capable but may only sometimes be able to provide the same level of personalized service as private attorneys. The time constraints may restrict their ability to explore every potential legal angle or to communicate as frequently or as in-depth with each client.

Private Attorneys

Private defense lawyers can offer a more personalized approach. They can afford to spend more time on individual cases because they control their caseload and are compensated directly by their clients. This allows for tailored defense strategies and more frequent and detailed communication with the client, ensuring that the client’s specific concerns and goals are addressed.

Resources and Access

Public Defenders: Resource limitations are a notable challenge for public defenders. While they have access to basic legal resources, they may need more access to expert witnesses, private investigators, and other specialized professionals due to budget constraints. This can affect the comprehensiveness of the defense they can mount.

Private Attorneys: Private lawyers often have greater access to a broad array of resources, including state-of-the-art technology for case management and networks of professional experts and investigators. This access allows them to build stronger, more evidence-based defenses and to challenge the prosecution’s case more effectively.

Expertise and Specialization

Public Defenders: Public defenders are usually well-versed in various criminal law topics due to their extensive experience with various cases. However, their ability to specialize in niche areas of criminal law can be limited by the need to cover a broad spectrum of cases.

Private Attorneys: Private defense attorneys often specialize in specific areas of criminal law, such as DUIs, drug offenses, or white-collar crimes. This specialization can give them deeper expertise and a more nuanced understanding of the relevant laws and defenses. Clients with complex cases or those requiring specialized knowledge may benefit significantly from this expert advice.

How to Choose the Right Lawyer for Your Case

Start with referrals from friends, family, or colleagues who have had personal experiences with a criminal defense lawyer.

Consult professional organizations, such as the Chicago Bar Association or the Illinois State Bar Association, which can provide directories of attorneys by specialty.

Research online to find reviews and testimonials from previous clients, as well as information about the lawyer’s past case results, qualifications, and recognitions.

Check Credentials and Experience

Ensure the lawyer is licensed to practice in Illinois and has no history of disciplinary actions.
Look for lawyers who specialize in the law relevant to your case. For instance, if you face a drug charge, look for a lawyer with experience handling similar cases.

Schedule Consultations

Most criminal defense lawyers offer a free initial consultation. Use this opportunity to get to know the lawyer and assess their suitability for your case.

Prepare for the consultation by gathering all relevant documents and details about your case.

Questions to Ask a Potential Lawyer

When meeting with potential lawyers, consider asking the following questions to gauge their expertise and compatibility with your needs:

  1. What experience do you have with my type of case?
  2. How many cases like mine have you handled, and what were the outcomes?
  3. Who in your office will handle my case, and how is work delegated?
  4. What is your approach or strategy for my case?
  5. What are your fees, and how are they structured? (Hourly rate, flat fee, etc.)
  6. How will you communicate with me about the progress of my case?
  7. Can you provide references from past clients?

These questions will help you understand the lawyer’s experience, approach to legal defense, and how they manage client relationships.

Importance of Lawyer-Client Chemistry and Trust

The relationship between a lawyer and a client is built on trust and mutual respect. It’s important for the client to feel comfortable sharing personal and often sensitive information with their lawyer, knowing that it will be used to their advantage in legal proceedings.

Contact Sami Azhari Today for Your Criminal Case in Illinois

If you’re facing criminal charges in Illinois, securing the right legal representation is crucial to navigating your case’s complexities and protecting your rights. Sami Azhari, a renowned criminal defense attorney with extensive experience and a proven track record, is ready to help you. Whether you’re dealing with charges related to DUI, drug offenses, fraud, or any other criminal matter, Sami Azhari has the expertise to offer you the robust defense strategy you need. Contact Azhari LLC today!