When I Would Rather Have a Public Defender

When I Would Rather Have a Public Defender


I plan on never needing a criminal lawyer, but in the event that I find myself in Skokie bond court for a minor offense, I would rather have a public defender at my side.

It’s a dichotomy as old as the modern-day justice system: a brutal, opportunistic state’s attorney battles an overworked, absent-minded public defender in court. The more I looked, the more I found sitcom after movie perpetuating this idea that public defenders do not know their client and do not care.

During this past summer, I interned with the Cook County Public Defender’s Office in Chicago.  Despite the very negative stereotypes surrounding the criminal justice system, I arrived with an open mind and a readiness to defend the Constitution.

Immediately, I found a different story than the one replayed on television. Rather, public defenders tended to know the system, judges, and sheriffs better than most private attorneys. I commonly heard our own clients tell the judge that they were trying to find a “real” lawyer; one judge finally retorted that the public defender standing next to them would probably be better.

Judges can often set bond arbitrarily, and it is important to have the familiarity to know which buttons not to push or even when to change judges. Some are harsher on driving under the influence of alcohol while others hate cocaine. Regardless, a public defender is able to mentally prepare their clients for what they expect the outcome to be.

Additionally, public opinion consistently places an inflated confidence on the private attorney based on these stereotypes without acknowledging the experience gained by being in court day after day. This overconfidence can sometimes be quite damaging. I remember one day in court watching an esteemed private attorney attempt to negotiate a lower bond for his client. I instantly began to find faults in his argument, even as a college sophomore who had never taken a law class. As I sat with a public defender, we began working through his statements almost as an exercise on how not to argue. Private attorneys can be incredibly helpful and necessary, but their knowledge and experience are often exaggerated simply by virtue of being independently compensated for their work.

Although my experiences veered very far from television, I did ask myself at certain moments, “Did that just really happen?” During one trial, the prosecutor had just finished her line of questioning when the private defense attorney walked over to her desk and handed her a note that read, “cute.” This action appeared completely unprofessional and potentially hurt his case for his client.

Unfortunately, negative stereotypes also suggest that public defenders do not care about their clients, when in fact, they often go beyond the scope of their job and act as social workers. This might include securing housing for a client given electronic monitoring who doesn’t live in the state or transportation to the courthouse for an individual who is homeless. No one asks them to do this, usually not even their client. In fact, one client from our office threatened to kill his PD, yet they continued to provide him with the best possible representation.

I cannot speak for public defenders or private attorneys everywhere. However, I can speak for the many PDs I witnessed day after day in court, advocating for the best interests of their clients while rarely receiving any gratitude for the job.  

Public defenders serve an instrumental role in our democracy. They speak for those who have no voice, fighting against a system that is so stacked against them — and the Cook County Public Defenders that I worked with were good at it, too.

About author

Catherine Kvam

Catherine Kvam is a junior and Deputy Editor-in-Chief for VPR. Previously, Kvam served as a Senior Editor after joining the staff as a contributor in 2016. She is interested in social justice topics and international affairs.

  • ceasuri Guess Romania#1

    April 27, 2019

    Thank you for your post.Thanks Again. Really Cool.

  • small business management#2

    April 26, 2019

    This is a really good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Simple but very accurate info Appreciate your sharing this one. A must read article!

  • small business ideas#3

    April 26, 2019

    I want to encourage you to continue your great posts, have a nice holiday weekend!

  • Brent#4

    April 25, 2019

    I have three blogs on tumblr under the same email address. Exactly how do I erase one of those blog sites without removing the other 2?. Ideally, I ‘d like a person to answer whom has actually experienced this trouble before as well as solved it without erasing their various other blog sites. Many thanks!.

  • Apex Legends Season 1#5

    April 25, 2019

    I like reading a post that can make people think. Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!

  • best pron#6

    April 22, 2019

    krNqZq Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth.

  • Arline#7

    April 19, 2019

    I like Facebook, but I despise that their notes area isn’t as appealing as MySpace’s blogs. I have actually recently moved a blog from MySpace to Facebook using the “share” symbol situated underneath each blog … Nevertheless, I do not such as the way it shows up on my Facebook web page. Are there any type of far better methods to import my blogs?.

  • John Deere Diagnostic and Test Manuals#8

    April 18, 2019

    i could only wish that solar panels cost only several hundred dollars, i would love to fill my roof with solar panels-

  • Ricky#9

    April 12, 2019

    Where can I discover legitimate blog sites that are focused on or at least delve seriously right into penis augmentation?

  • Hui#10

    April 11, 2019

    Does anyone know where I can start a free website?

  • Charles#11

    April 11, 2019

    Blogspot blog: How do I get rounded corners for my backgrounds?

  • navigate here#12

    April 8, 2019

    How could I write blogs or articles and get paid for it?

  • John Deere Repair Manuals#13

    April 6, 2019

    The particular Amish’s important faith centered idea of Demut “humility”, plainly demonstrates the particular weak spot related to individualism as well as sociable school therefore well-known concerning individuals civilizations and also there exists a matching sturdiness relating to Amish party id.

  • internet#14

    April 3, 2019

    I just want to say I am new to weblog and certainly liked you’re page. Almost certainly I’m going to bookmark your blog . You really have outstanding writings. Bless you for sharing your web page.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *