Skip to main content

The Difference Between A Public Defense Attorney And A Private Defense Attorney – Q&A.

The Difference Between A Public Defense Attorney And A Private Defense Attorney – Q&A.

When it comes to finding a defense attorney to work on a DUI case or any other type of criminal case, one of the first major decisions an individual must contemplate is to hire a private defense attorney or to utilize a public defense attorney.  For some individuals the choice is clear, for others the decision may be more difficult.  Here are some commonly asked questions and answers concerning private and public defense attorneys that may aid in the decision to hire an attorney or not.

Q.  Does a public defense attorney cost money, and if so how much?

A.  A public defense attorney does not cost money if that individual qualifies as indigent under Washington State law.  According to RCW 10.101, a person who is indigent:

  • Receives public assistance (temporary assistance for needy families; aged, blind or disabled assistance benefits; medical care services under RCW 74.09.035; pregnant women assistance benefits, poverty-related veterans’ benefits, food stamps or food stamp benefits transferred electronically, refugee resettlement benefits, Medicaid, or supplemental security income); OR
  • Is involuntarily committed to a public mental health facility; OR
  • Receives an annual income, after taxes, of 125 percent or less of the current federally established poverty level (external); OR
  • Is unable to pay the anticipated cost of counsel for the matter before the court because the available funds are insufficient to pay any amount for the retention of counsel.

If an individual does not qualify as indigent but does not have enough money for a private attorney than that individual is considered “able to contribute” and the Department of Public Defense screener will have the individual sign a promissory note to offset the cost of the public defense attorney.

Q.  Does a private attorney cost money, and if so how much?

A.   Yes, a private defense attorney will charge a flat fee or an hourly fee for services rendered.  Fees vary between private attorneys and more experienced attorneys or large law firms often command higher fees.  Here at David O Defense, attorneys offer a free consultation to talk about the criminal allegation.  During the consultation the attorney will be able to determine the legal fee, which is based on the circumstances of the case and criminal history.  A unique feature of David O Defense is the ability to offer tailored payment plans, to fit the financial situations of our clients.

3.  Q.  Does an individual get to choose a public defense attorney of their choice for case representation?

A.  No, the Department of Public Defense will assign an attorney, an individual does not get to choose.

4.  Q.  Does an individual get to choose a private defense attorney of their choice for case representation?

A.  Yes, an individual chooses a private defense attorney that best fits their legal needs.  Here at David O Defense we prefer to meet individuals in person so they can get a better impression of our attorneys and office environment.  We also encourage individuals to meet with other attorneys so they can determine which private attorney will provide the best representation. When visiting other attorneys, David O Defense suggests individuals should observe; 1) attorney mannerisms, 2) how well the attorney articulates legal matters and answers questions, and 3) the organization of the attorney and their office. Additionally, we recommend reading attorney reviews by peers and past clients on reputable websites like,Yelp or

5.  Q.  Will a public defense attorney or a private defense attorney provide better case resolution and results?

A.  Generally a private defense attorney will work harder for better case resolutions and results.  Generally a private attorney has a smaller case load than a public defense attorney and therefore can dedicate more time and effort into an individuals case.  Also a private attorney has monetary and future referral incentives to work hard on an individual’s case, whereas a public defense attorney will receive a paycheck win or lose a case and they do not depend on referrals for future clients.  Here at David O Defense, our attorneys work very hard to achieve optimal case results for each and every client.

6.  Q.  Do public and private defense attorneys have the same legal education and qualifications for criminal defense work?

A.   Yes, both public and private defense attorneys have completed law school and passed the Washington State Bar exam to become a practicing criminal defense attorney in the State of Washington.  Years of experience, extra curriculum legal involvement, and a passion for criminal law will vary between attorneys.


Written by Criminal Defense Attorney, David O

Co-Written by SAO

Defense Attorneys Giving Back To The Community

Defense Attorneys Giving Back To The Community

The criminal defense attorneys of David O Defense have a collective goal to continuously give back to the community through personal time, participation, and/or money.  With an objective to give throughout the year, the attorneys are proud to announce their new support of Mountlake Terrace Little League.  They believe that every small act they contribute beyond themselves will have a positive impact on someone else.  For more information on how the defense attorneys at David O Defense give back to the community see “Serving The Community.”

David O Defense Mission Statement – Fighting For Rights, Providing Peace of Mind, & Serving The Community


Written by S.O


“What Not To Wear To Court” – Advice From Defense Attorney David O

“What Not To Wear To Court” – Advice From Defense Attorney David O

Often times I am shocked when I show up to court and see a room full of inappropriately dressed people.  I think to myself, “Is this REALLY how someone wants to present themselves to a judge who is going to determine their case issues of law and possible penalties at the sentencing phase of the criminal case?”

About 2 years ago, I represented a client who was charged with DUI based on smoking marijuana.  God bless my DUI client, she loved to smoke weed but I couldn’t believe she wore a Bob Marley blunt smoking shirt to our court appearance.  You don’t need to be dressed like you are going to a funeral but you shouldn’t wear a T-shirt displaying the crime you’ve been accused of.

Another instance of what not to wear; I was in Seattle Municipal Court and noticed a young lady who was charged with prostitution.  I’m not one to judge a person’s appearance but if you are facing a charge of prostitution you probably shouldn’t come to court looking like you just got off “work.”  If you are charged with prostitution or any other criminal charge for that matter you should not wear a mini skirt, 5 inch heels and a v-neck tee barely supporting your large chest.

Another fun what not to wear sighting came out of Lynnwood Municipal Court where I observed a defense attorney dressed like he just came straight to court from an all night out of drinking.  Although he was dressed in a suit, it looked as if it had not been dry cleaned since he bought it in 1993.  It smelled like it hadn’t been cleaned since then either.  This defense attorney’s shirt was so wrinkled it looked like he was wearing it while demonstrating how to stop drop and roll as if his clothes had been on fire.  Again, you don’t need to dress like you are going to the Emmy’s but come on…criminal defense attorneys should dress as if they really care about their client’s case.

In a nut shell, here’s WHAT NOT TO WEAR to court;

  • a tank top or short shorts
  • a baseball cap, hat, or doo rag
  • short skirts or short dresses
  • T-shirts with inappropriate graphics
  • flip-flops or slippers
  • soiled or stinky clothes
  • ripped or torn clothes

When going to court you should dress as if you were attending church or meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time.  You don’t necessarily need to wear a new suit but you want to look like you respect the court system and you respect yourself.