Representing Yourself, Private Attorney & Public Defender

Interviewer: Do you think it would be wise for someone to represent themselves?

Gary Churak: No, and they’re not going to. Unless it’s the smallest level misdemeanor, most courts are not going to let an individual represent themselves because of the constitutional issues involved with that. Also, the courts don’t want to have a habeas corpus down the road for improper plea or anything. I have seen it done in small counties, where they just walk you in and take your money.  I have had situations where I have gotten calls from people, especially when the economy went south and people were looking for new jobs, a guy would call me up and say “I went for get a job and they ran a criminal background check and I’ve got a marijuana conviction on my record and I have no idea how I got it.” I ask “did you ever get arrested?”  The caller will say, “Well yeah, I was in college and they busted us with some marijuana and they took us in front of a judge and the judge basically fined us $200.00 each and we left.”  I then say, “well, you just got convinced of marijuana possession, because basically you plead in front of that judge and paid a fine, so that’s a conviction.”  The caller then inquires, “How do I get it off my record?” I say “you don’t.”  I would never, never, never let anybody, or advise anybody to represent themselves on even on the smallest case.

Private Attorney vs. Public Defender

Interviewer: What would be the advantage of hiring a private attorney, let’s say over a public defender in a drug case?

Gary Churak: I don’t know if there is an advantage or not.  It depends.  In Texas, most areas do not have public defenders they have private attorneys who are court appointed and get paid a nominal fee by the county to represent these people.  It’s all a matter of economics. If you are going to make $400.00 on this case, how hard are you going to work? Compare that with somebody paying you a nice hefty retainer to represent them.  As a private attorney you can hire expert witnesses, and do a lot more on a hired case versus an appointed case.  The bottom line, most people who get court-appointed attorneys can’t afford attorneys anyway, that is why they get a court-appointed attorney. People that can afford to hire an attorney are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney because they are not indigent.