Public Defender vs. Private Attorney Statistics

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Updated on August 20, 2023

In the US, the performance levels of public defenders and private attorneys are usually up for debate. However, it will be impossible to prove how effective private or public attorneys are without accurate data. Continue reading for public defender vs. private attorney statistics.

Data shows that about 12% of defendants with a public attorney avoid convictions after trial. Official records also show that as much as 23% of defendants with a private attorney escape convictions after court proceedings

In most cases, public defenders could have less time to prepare for a case. Other times, public defenders might entertain a massive workload that could derail their performance. 

On the other hand, many people with a court date prefer private attorneys when they can afford their services. And sometimes, the experience, manpower, and motivation of private attorneys could overwhelm their private counterparts. 

That’s why this article looks at ten (10) important statistics on public defenders and private attorneys in the US. Information from this post makes it easy to determine which type of attorney performs better under different situations. 

Public Defender vs. Private Attorney Statistics

1. 88% of defendants with a public defender in the US get convicted

US Department of Justice

In the US, at least 88% of defendants with public defenders charged with a felony got prison sentences. The figure means that at least 88 out of 100 people with public attorneys got a jail sentence after court proceedings. 

However, based on the available private attorney vs. public defender statistics, the numbers for defendants with a private attorney aren’t that good either.  

2. 76% of defendants with a private attorney in the US get convicted

Bureau of Justice Statistics

At least 76 out of 100 defendants who hired their own attorneys got jail sentences after court rulings. The 76% rate covers most defendants charged with fraud, violent crimes, homicides, and public-order offenses. 

3. 33% of US defendants are more likely to opt for private representation

Office of Justice Programs

At least a third of defendants in US courts prefer to hire private attorneys to guide their defense. 

However, data on how many defendants prefer public representation is scarce. Most defendants who settle for public defenders do so out of necessity and may hire private attorneys if they can.

4. 2 in 10 defendants charged with violent crimes prefer private attorneys

Bureau of Justice Statistics

About 20% of offenders charged with violent crimes prefer hiring attorneys in private practice. That leaves about 80% of violent crime offenders under the cover of public representation.

5. In the 1990s, State Prosecutor offices reported a median budget of $254,000

National Law Journal

More than half of prosecutor offices in the US hired about 10 people with an annual budget of $254,000. 

However, prosecutor offices with a larger service population could have massive annual budgets. Some offices with about 1,000,000 people to serve had budgets of over $25 million in the same period. 

6. More than 2,300 state court prosecutors hired more than 71,000 attorneys and staff 

Bureau of Justice Statistics

About 2,340 State Court prosecutor offices hired 71,000 attorneys, support staff, and investigators in the mid-1990s to 2000s. 

7. Over 50% of US public defenders were subject to threats or victims of assault in the mid-1990s

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Numbers collated from 1992-1996 across US State Prosecutor offices report that most staff were victims of assault or threats. As much as 50% of staff working under state prosecutors registered at least one threat or assault incident.

The numbers are even larger in State Prosecutor offices serving huge populations. Out of all staff at State Prosecutor offices serving 1,000,000 defendants and above, at least 75% experienced threats or assaults. 

8. 73% of public-order offenders in the US prefer private attorneys

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Data shows that more than two-thirds of public-order offenders in America prefer private legal representation. Offenders with multiple public-order offenses also fall in this category. 

9. 3 out of 4 State defendants with a private attorney are found guilty of offenses

Department of Justice

At least 75% (3 out of 4) of defendants represented by a private attorney facing State prosecution get charged for offenses. Offenses committed by such defendants include drug crimes, violence, property theft, public-order crimes, and more. 

A percentage of state defendants with a private attorney also got sentenced to prison less than those with public defenders. And the data shows that State defendants who hired private attorneys got fewer years in prison than those with public defenders. 

10. 25%-40% of defendants charged with rape, sexual assault, and weapons possession use private attorneys 

Office of Justice Programs

According to a report from the Office of Justice Programs, a massive percentage of offenders prefer private attorneys. Here’s a breakdown of how these offenders prefer private representation in court:

  • About 25% of defendants charged with rape and/or sexual assault are more likely to hire private attorneys. 
  • 40% of defendants charged with homicides will likely hire a private attorney ahead of public defenders
  • 28% of defendants charged with DUIs are likely to hire private attorneys
  • 25% of defendants charged with weapons-related offenses will hire private representation

As seen from the numbers above, 4 in 10 (40%) of homicide offenders prefer private attorneys. The percentages for offenders accused of DUIs, weapons offenses, and rape are equally significant.