To begin with, let's define the two. In Utah, counties and cities open a bidding process to fill the position of Public Defender. Bids come in from various attorneys with different levels of experience and expertise. The Public Defender contract is often given to the lowest bidder, sometimes resulting in an attorney with less experience as compared to the higher bidders. Once the public defender is selected he or she is inundated with cases, appointed by the court, for defendants who qualify for free representation. The case load is always very large, and very limited of time is given to each case because of the volume of cases.
Public defenders work with the city and county prosecutors to resolve each case as quickly as possible. Because of the huge demand on the public defenders, defendants do not always get the best representation or defense in their cases. I have heard many defendants upset and frustrated that their public defender has no time to return phone calls, refuse to prepare a suppression motion, do a preliminary hearing, or take their case to trial, because they don' have the time.
A Private Attorney is a lawyer who is hired by a defendant to represent them in court. Private attorney's have much smaller case loads, thus they have more time to work on a case, interview witnesses, investigate and meet with the client, even return phone calls.
Hiring a private attorney allows you to shop around, get referrals, research which lawyer has experience in criminal law, and which one is a general attorney, knowing a little bit about a lot of different areas. Most private attorneys will allow you to come into their office for a free initial consultation. This way, you can find out how experienced the attorney is, his or her feelings about your case, and the fee you would be charged.
The saying "You get what you pay for" is often very true when hiring an attorney. The more experience, the better the representation and defense. If you are charged with a crime, give me a call. You don't want to chance your future with anyone else.