There is this practice in small communities of hiring contract public defenders and paying them a "flat fee" to handle all of the counties’ indigent defense work. Say you are in "Little" County, and you get charged with burglary. You don’t have that rainy day fund, so you use the services of the public defender. He is paid by the county to defend folks like you – you know – folks without the money to hire a "private" lawyer, so off to court you go to meet and greet your lawyer. Let’s call her Betty. Betty looks at the file and says, "hey – I can get you a deal TODAY for a misdemeanor – unauthorized entry into the bedroom of another – if you plead TODAY! NO FELONY! TODAY only. What do you think?" And you say, "no, I’m not guilty." PD says "but it’s a misdemeanor… why risk the felony. Just plead today and get it over. " And let’s suppose that you do plead, and get sentenced to a year in jail, with all but 5 days suspended, and placed on probation for 2 years. You do your time and then get a DUI – and they violate you and send you to jail to serve the 360 "suspended" days on your unauthorized entry. You protest your innocence and claim your PD made you do it. Gotta’ case? Perhaps!
In Spokane a jury recently awarded a defendant who had spent 7 months in jail for child molestation, a crime he had not committed, $3 million. As you say "$3 million dollars" please put your pinkie finger next to your lips like Dr. Evil did in Austin Powers. It seems that the Public Defender did not have time to attend to the defense of the client because he had 500 OTHER open cases. I know that I have said this like 3 million times but public defenders have to carry huge case loads and when they do. your case may get lost in the shuffle. You may stay in jail as a result of that negligence – but if you do – you may have a case of legal malpractice.
The real culprit here is not the flat fee contract that the PD has with the county. The real problem is that the caseload is simply too much for most PDs to handle. Because he has that flat fee, he has NO incentive to manage your file as opposed to some other file and you may rot in jail as a result . But that same problem exists whenever any attorney has too many cases or becomes satisfied with handling the cases in the easiest way possible. And virtually all criminal defense lawyers handle some cases on a flat fee basis. My point is this – don’t look at the fee, look at the performance of the lawyer.
With kind apologies to may pals who have such contracts, watch out if you are represented by a public defender in a small community. Do not just plead guilty to take the easier road. Make certain the lawyer tells you the consequences of such a plea and then only enter a plea if you are guilty. Beg or borrow the money to get another opinion before you enter that plea if you are in such a setting. And if you have been sitting in jail because your "Little" county PD with 500 cases can’t find time to investigate your case, call me. We need to talk.