The Office of the Public Defender was created on July 1, 1971, by the Maryland Legislature. With over approximately 570 attorneys, OPD is the largest legal services organization in Maryland. Representation is provided in District Courts, Juvenile Courts, Circuit Courts, judicial bail reviews and related collateral hearings, Children in Need of Assistance (CINA) and termination of parental rights (TPR) cases.
Public defenders have a lot of litigation and trial experience, know the judges very well, and are in court every day. However, they have large caseloads and cannot devote a lot of time to each individual case. Additionally, you cannot choose your public defender, your attorney is assigned to you.
Keep in mind you must apply for a public defender ten (10) business days before your trial date. If you are too late, then the Office of the Public Defender will not represent you. You'll have to ask the court for a postponement in order to give yourself enough time to apply. Some judges will not grant you a postponement if you waited too long to apply.
Additionally, you have to qualify for the public defender's services. If you don't qualify, then you have to hire a private DUI/DWI attorney in order to have professional legal representation.
Private DUI/DWI defense attorneys can devote more time to prepare for each case. They can meet with clients, talk to witnesses, tell clients what to do in terms of mitigation, take your phone calls, and you can choose your own private defense lawyer.
These are things that public defenders do, too. However, a public defender usually has multiple clients on any given day and cannot provide you with the personal representation that a private attorney can.
Of course, private DUI/DWI attorneys charge fees and won't enter their appearance in a case until they are paid. The public defender's representation is free.
Finally, a public defender will not represent you at your MVA hearing. Some private DUI/DWI defense attorneys include your MVA hearing as part of their fee. The Office of Administrative Hearings is a complicated bureaucracy with many bright-line rules that are familiar only to those attorneys who regularly appear before the MVA.
Either way, it is important to have a DUI/DWI attorney present to evaluate the prosecution's case, determine any defenses you may have, protect your rights, and reduce any potential consequences.
There are many great public defenders and private DUI/DWI defense attorneys. I've had the pleasure of work with and against both in private practice and as a former prosecutor in Baltimore City.