Interviewer: In a criminal case, why is it important to retain an attorney? I know in a DUI case it could be different, but in a criminal case, why is it important for someone to represent themselves, or for someone to have a private attorney versus a public defender versus representing them? Compare those.
Brian Geno: People obviously shouldn’t represent themselves. That is just a certain way to get the lowest kind of representation. That’s just a mistake. First off, I would say that. Moving on to the question of whether or not someone should get a public defender or they should hire someone, a public defender obviously has the benefit of representing someone who doesn’t have any money, and a private attorney represents people for money, so it gives them the advantage that they wouldn’t otherwise have, just because now they can afford to have an attorney.
If you have the ability to get a public defender – that is, your income is low enough that you could get one – but you also have the ability to get a private attorney, maybe by getting a loan or something like that so that you can get your own attorney, the question should not be “Which one is cheaper?” because a private attorney, many times, will take the time that’s required to really focus on the case. They will take the energy of working on your case when the public defender may not have the time or inclination to work on it. Many times, also, many of the public defenders are younger attorneys in their first few years out, and so they don’t have the trial experience that a more seasoned private attorney would have.
If you want somebody who’s going to care, get a private attorney. If you want someone who’s going to take the time, get a private attorney. If you have the money to pay for your own, you probably shouldn’t be getting a public defender anyway. As far as the quality goes, you’re going to get a stronger representation, for the most part, by hiring someone. I’m not saying anything bad about these public defenders. They are public servants, and they work really hard to do what they do, but they work really hard with a much larger caseload than someone like me would have. I don’t have to have as big a caseload, because I’m getting paid a fair wage for what I do, so I can afford to focus on it. A lot of times it’s a matter of time, and in my experience, I think probably cleverness plays a role as well. It’s definitely a preference. You get better results, I think, when you hire your own private counsel.
Interviewer: How long do criminal cases take to resolve? How long, potentially, could one last?
Brian Geno: If you have a criminal case that is a misdemeanor, it’s going to be much shorter than if you have a felony. A felony has, at a minimum, five different court appearances just because it’s a felony. A misdemeanor, on the other hand, would have two. That alone lengthens it if it’s a felony. If you’ve got a misdemeanor, you’re probably looking at 45 to 60 days unless something unusual is going on, but if you have a felony, you’re probably looking at 90 to 120 days. That’s easy to do 90 to 120 days. It could even be longer than that. I’ve had cases before that lasted a very long time. When I say a very long time, I mean nine months or more. A person should not say to themselves, “I just want to get this over with.” That is a really bad way to approach a case. They know that they’re going to have to deal with a case for a certain length of time, and just the thought of dealing with it is really bad for them. My advice is the best way to get it over really fast is to walk into the courtroom and just give up.
That being said, everyone knows that if they just walk into the courtroom and give up, the results are going to be terrible. You can see my point: walking in and giving up and making things fast do not give you good results. Find your strength of heart and defend yourself. Take care of what needs to be taken care of, because when it’s over, you can rest, but before that, you’ve got to fight for yourself.